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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rogers Covers The Globe for Curling, Part II

Alberta Scotties:

Renee Sonnenberg vs. (her ex-second) Kristie Moore

Kristie Moore's winning squad lost their first two games and then ran the table, needing to come through the 3-4 game to reach the semi-finals and finals.   In the Championship Finals, the first three ends looked like the 1988 Scotties, barely a guard to be seen.  2-1 lead for Sonnenberg, with hammer. 4th end shows us the harsh realities of curling rink versus arena ice.  Renee elects to concede a steal of one by hitting the Moore rock sitting second and open, rather than attempt a soft draw tap for one.  It would have been difficult on arena ice but was likely impossible given the rink conditions.   A good decision.

A deuce in the 5th puts Renee up 4-2, but a horrible miss on her first in the 6th gives it right back.  Sonneneberg sits one on the side of the button with a Moore stone sitting half in the back twelve foot about 4/5 open.  Renee attempts to pick out the back rock (would have been difficult to make it and sit two) and instead racks on the her shot stone and leaves Moore sitting one.  With a two point lead, this was a great opportunity to take a very small risk, place a guard (my preferred option) or, if you choose to be conservative (and eliminate any remote chance at 3), draw to the open side to sit two (though you may leave a possible double).  Even if Renee makes the peel, the result of the end is a likely blank and Kristie can come back the next end with hammer.  On curling rink ice with less swing, a guard can be more valuable and have a wider room for error than on arena ice.  

A steal of two by Moore in the 7th happens with no guards in play after a missed tap by Sonnenberg third Lawnie MacDonald and missed draw on Renee's last.  Paul Webster mentions before Lawnie's last shot "they know they're going to score here".  An unintential jinx I am sure. 

In the 8th, the end begins more traditional (in the sense of four-rock-free-guard-zone-traditional), with a corner, a centre guard and 3 rocks frozen in the top tee.  Renee peels the center then Kristie elects to peel the corner, rather than put another guard.  After two hits, Renee faces this on Lawnie's first rock:

Sonnenberg is yellow

The problem with hitting the two red is there is virtually no way to avoid leaving a very makeable double.  Renee chose the hit, which was called and made, and subsequently a double made by Moore's third Blaine de Jager.  2 down with two ends to play and no useful guards in sight, Renee needs to be more aggressive here.  a freeze on the top red stones or even a tap on her own (with a roll in front of the red stones) would be preferred.  Sonnenberg is eventually forced to a single and is now down 1 without hammer and two ends to go.

After a force, Renee is able to score two in the 10th to tie (and it didn't look likely until her last).  The 11th end has Kristie in a bit of trouble with Renee able to sit two staggared behind a centre guard.  On her first, Kristie attempts a double and actually nudges the Sonnenberg stone closer (but to the side) of the button. Renee chooses to put up another guard on that side of the rings but she may have been better served to draw around the centre with the other turn and put her rock on top of the button (my preferred call), because....Kirstie, in the biggest pressue situation of her young skipping career, calmy makes an inturn draw to the pin (with help from a rub on her opponents stone) for the win.  

Grand Slam coverage coming up in Part III...

Monday, January 28, 2013

SportsNet Covers The Globe for Curling

Ok, it's not quite the globe, but crews worked events in Lethbridge, Alberta and Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia with Stonewall, Manitoba and Waterloo, Ontario in between.  I'm not a georgraphy major but I expect you could fit most European countries within that distance, and likely a few Asian and African ones as well.  (Not Russia of course, as this guy will tell you).  This weekend was loaded with curling and even Rogers couldn't keep up.  At one point during the Alberta Womens final (and the soothing sounds of a real curling rink), the Ontario Womens finals cut in.  I thought my Tivo had actually exploded from trying to handle the load I put on it, but it appeared to be a SportsNet faux pas.

Before I get into the events and games themselves, some random thoughts.

1. The Alberta event was held in a curling rink and we got to hear the sounds and see the "classic" curling score board.  It appears complex, so for those that have never seen one, this will help explain:

The numbers put up on the board (black above) are the ends and the points (red numbers) are fixed on the board.  You place the end in the row of the scoring team, placing it above or below the total score for that team.  In the sample above, Blue scored 2 points in he first end, Yellow scored 1 in the second, Blue scored 1 in the third (now totals 3), etc.

Such a simple design that must have been invented by the soberest of Scotsman, who realized that it was difficult to keep boxes of numbers handy at the end of the rink.  If anyone knows the true origins of this simple yet brilliant invention, please let me know.

2. New careers are launched.  The need for many broadcasts across the country at the same time required the need of many curling commentators.  Ontario coverage had RJ Broadhead and Danielle Inglis. Danielle was actually in the event but, unlucky for her team but lucky for her broadcasting career, she managed to lose out prior to the weekend.  Appears she has the background for this gig and actually has a job as a blogger with the CCA (you mean people get paid to do this?).  Manitoba had Roger Millions and seasoned vet Joan McCusker.  Alberta was covered by Don Landry with Paul Webster (CCA stalwart) and Tara Slone appearing as the side-"bar" reporter, seen being served a caesar during her introduction.  

So what did I make of the new talking heads?  If I say they were great I might never get my chance to replace them when one or more is sacked.  If I say they were terrible then it would make me look like a disgruntled blogger who yearns for a true spot in the media limelight.  The truth is my Tivo allows me to watch in fast forward and I rarely listened to much of the jovial banter that was sure to be heard.  If there was less curling to watch perhaps I'd have time enough to savour the entire experience of SportsNet and make more futile attempts to poke fun at those who are attempting to watch, talk, inform and entertain the curling viewer.  It is not an easy task to cover curling and everyone (regardless of their level of skill) should be applauded.  I may not be in that limelight, but I am part of the fastest growing Curling Podcast on iTunes today (going from 2 to 6 listeners is a 200% increase!).  You can join our half dozens of fans by checking out "Around The House" and subscribing to our show.       

3. Alberta Womens curling is ridiculous.  There was a graphic shown on SportsNet of the top 12 ranked Womens teams in Canada. Seven are from Alberta!  And the winner of the 2013 Alberta Scotties, was NOT ON THE LIST!  You could start calling Alberta the SEC of Womens Curling, but they need more Championship finishes (none are in the top 4 of the rankings) and coaches with personality to earn that moniker.  They'll have two cracks at another Canadian Scotties with Team Canada's Heather Nedohin squad from Edmonton and Alberta champ Kristie Moore, who played with Heather for many years and recently left the team she beat in the finals, Renee Sonnenberg.

4. Jeff Stoughton won a Grand Slam.  This seems like no big deal, there's 4 every year and Jeff is clearly one of the top 4-5 skips in the World the last 15 years but he hadn't won one of these in 7 years!  His last was the Canadian Open during the 2005-06 Season.  He was zero for his last 23. I expect you could win a few drink tickets placing that bet in the Brier patch.  Even I was surprised it had been that long.  Stoughton's squad also put a butt-kicking on their Manitoba rivals Team Mike McEwen in the finals, giving the young up-and-comers-who-are-already-here something to mull over before the upcoming provincials. 

5. Points without hammer on the rise?  I was discussing recently with Gerry Guertz of CurlingZone that we should investigate the odds of steals.  I was wondering if the number of stolen ends in Grand Slams was in decline, based on improved play of the top teams.  I wasn't considering games where a team is gambling to come from behind, but in games that were close (tied or within one point), I speculated over time these numbers will decrease and wondered if they already had.  Naturally, at the National, there were 6 ends stolen during the quarterfinals, and 3 more during the semi-finals.  That's a percentage of 28% of close ends stolen during those 6 games.

Detailed Strategy and Game Analysis...Coming soon in Part 2...
(I know, I still haven't done Part 2 on How to Play Howard, I thank you for your patience).

Monday, January 21, 2013

A New, Yet Still the Same, TSN Skins

This past weekend we were all subjected  fortunate to see a new flavour of Skins Curling on TSN.  Rather than having four of the top mens teams in Canada, or spice the event up with a European team or a Woman's team, 2013 presented us with a real life sports fantasy draft.  This also made for one of the more awkward 30 minutes in the history of sports television, but I must admit it was strangely fascinating watching the Vic Rauter hosted broadcast of "the draft".  

In case you missed it, fans were able to vote for their favorite players.  The top four from each position were recruited to play in the 2013 Dominion All-Star Skins presented by Pinty's and hosted at Casino Rama.  Kevin Martin, Kevin Koe, Glenn Howard and Jeff Stoughton were the top skips.  Not much surprise given in the last 6 years they have won every Brier, a bundle of Grand Slams, World Championships and even an Olympic Gold.

On Thursday before the event, a draft was held where each of the skips chose their teammates, a key rule being you could not chose your own teammate unless they were the only one remaining.

For anyone who's never done a fantasy pool, a "snake" draft allows for the sap who has to pick last in the first round, the ability to pick first in the next round.  In this event, Kevin Martin chose first, eight and nine while Stoughton chose fourth, fifth and twelve (the dreaded final pick). Pat Simmons was that final pick and, without much explanation, trotted out one of those really large cheques with a donation for the Schmirler Foundation.  

Of the four teams the top voted skips represented, only Wayne Middaugh and Mark Nichols were not particpating.      Steve Gould (previously with Stoughton) and BJ Neufeld of Team Mike McEwen were worthy replacements, though not having Wayne (who apparently had other commitments) at a Skins event did feel odd.

I won't go into the details of the actual draft results, but suprisingly there is already a Wikipedia page for that information.  Everyone appeared a little uncomfortable, and watching grown men hand shake and "man-hug" doesn't really make for top entertainment during this golden age of television (at least not on cable).  There were some interesting decisions made, related to which position was chosen when (2 leads went in the first round).  I could even analyze the approach and talk about how use of game theory could enable you to chose the best possible team (at least on paper), but that would be only interesting to maybe two other people and likely well beyond what the skips were thinking I expect.  

And then, on Saturday and Sunday, we were able to watch these new All-Star teams play each other.  Except, they aren't really all-star teams, in the sense of Major League Baseball or the NBA.  10 of the 12 players already play together and one (Steve) did as recent as last year.   It was more like having your four favourite albums on your iPod then putting them in a single playlist and hitting shuffle.  

As always with Skins, lots of rocks in play, lots of circus shots and a couple of draws to the button for more money than you get for winning most bonspiels.  It was still skins, it was still only (mildly) interesting to me and the fact players were on different teams didn't really add to any entertainment value.  

Not much math to discuss.  Years ago, in the early days of this event, players like Kevin Martin and Wayne Middaugh had already figured out the strategy of sacrificing skins to play for hammer at the right time in order to maximize the chance to win and move on.  In the past, when the winner returned each year, it was even more critical to win the entire event.  This is more an event of "angles", including the one   we saw in Kevin Koe's quadruple (or was it a quintupple) takeout to move ahead of Stoughton in the semi-final.

I was really glad to see Steve Gould make some cash with (All-Star) Team Howard.   Even if he was a little out of shape sweeping a few of those draw shots (he actually held the broom for the draw against Kevin Martin).  Well done Steve and good luck with Team Jacobs in the upcoming playdowns.

In other news, congratulations to Skip James Pahl and Third Mark Klinck for winning their spot in the Alberta Provincials.  These guys continue to call themselves retired, then show up for playdowns and beat most of the field.  A lesson to all of us that try to leave the game, don't ever enter because you actually might win.  Mark, who will be missing his planned Mexican vacation to instead curl in Leduc, once said to me "the problem with curling in playdowns is, if you win, it inevitably leads to more curling".  So true.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Considering the Continental Cup and How to Lose When You Score 4 in the First End

It's been a while since I've taken finger to keyboard.  I had hoped to get out a Grand Slam recap but the holidays, family, work, and then an awkward fall while skating with my 7 year old daughter resulted in my first ever broken bone.  The cast comes off in 3 more weeks and though it pains me to type for very long, I recognize my fans need more Curling Math to help while away the January freeze.  If I seem unclear or start to ramble, it's because the scotch I am drinking to manage the pain  has dulled my writing senses and made me unitelligible (or at least more than usual).

Before we start, if you haven't checked out our new Around The House Podcast or were waiting for it to be on iTunes or downloadable to your smart phone/device (I personally use Downcast on my iPhone), then please check us out by subscribing to our RSS feed.

Where to begin?  Let's start with version 2.0 (or is it 3.5?) of The Continental Cup.  I've written about this non-event before, and recent comments from Canada's golf/curling scribe Bob Weeks generally fit with my assessment. 

I want to be clear on one thing.  Having an event like this is VERY GOOD FOR CURLING.  I would like nothing more than it to become a showcase which receives coverage across the globe and reaches fans who might otherwise not see the Brier or Grand Slam finals.  Mr. Weeks suggests this is no Ryder Cup but he should also advise readers of the fact Ryder Cup didn't matter for nearly 60 years, despite golf growing in interest exponentially.  The Presidents Cup (perhaps a more fair comparison with the Continental Cup) , despite some close matches and even polite controversy in 2003, has never come close to the excitement that is the Ryder Cup.  

I was VERY much in favour of the rule change to a 60 point format instead of the race to 256 or whatever it used to be.  Keep it simple so that that the average fan can follow, so we know where everything stands and can make our own assessment of each teams chances at each stage.  This was done while still keeping half the points until the final day, so that drama storylines can unfold and the team from behind still has at least a small chance.  Someone has to tell me why TSN kept putting up the graphic "RACE to 31"  when in fact 30 1/2 is the actual point total required to win, and the Euros World needed only 30 and a tie to retain the Cup.  I know this appears minor, but as the Curling with Math guy, it is rather irritating that someone couldn't complete a basic equation for the viewer.  Is "RACE to 30.5" really that much worse?  And why is the Skills competition called "Singles" when it really isn't?

Having said all this, I still am not a fan of watching this event.  Even if there was more animosity between the teams rather than the cheerful mixed spiel camaraderie Bob Weeks talks about, I still likely wouldn't care all that much.  I never watched Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey soley for the hope that a fist fight would break out.  I would suggest (as Bob does) that holding the event every other year (or even every three) may increase my interest.  Maybe having it in exotic venues (like Las Vegas in 2014) will help as well, but likely not from my couch.  One poster on CurlingZone had a good point.  If you don't like it, it doesn't mean it doesn't have to exist, simply don't watch.  But you know what, I probably will, and I'll continue to wonder why.

Now, back to the last Grand Slam, The Canadian Open.  I'll pass on the full recap (too many TV games to cover), but instead analyze two situations that occured.  One, John Epping took 4 in the first end of an 8 end game, and LOST.  Second (in Part II), the finals had Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario invoking a conservative strategy against Howard.  Recall Stoughton in the Canada Cup played a (somehwat) similar gameplan.  Is this the way to play Howard?

How to lose when you score 4 in the first end:
7.3%.  That was the odds that Team Kevin Koe would recover from the 4 ender they coughed up to Team Epping in the first end of their round robin game.  That might actually sound high and, given the event and ice conditions, it probably is.  So did Koe come back or did Epping just collapse?

Second end, Koe's squad makes some great freeze shots and bounces back with a deuce.  They've now increased their odds to 11.7%.  

Third end, John misses his first shot, a chance at a double to sit two.  Likely Kevin would have a chance to double those out, so a blank (the end result) was still very likely.  Koe drops to 10.4%
Up 4-2 with hammer in the 4th end, Epping is facing this on third Scott Bailey's last rock:

Epping is Red

Epping decides to attempt to tap the high yellow and push his second shot rock to the back four.  Both Mike and Richard agree they don't like the call.  Before the shot, Koe would need two shots to get shot-rock and with this call by John, Koe will now only need one shot.  Scott ends up pushing the back red out of the rings, Kevin makes a soft hit tap on his own, and the result is this:

Epping is Red

As bad as it all looks, John still has a raise hit to take one on his last shot.  It's a terrible throw (attempting soft weight), comes across the face and he's very fortunate to only give up a steal of one.  Koe is now at 21.5%.  

In the 5th end, rather than attempting a run back on his first shot, Epping tries to come around with a soft tap on Koe's shot stone sitting top button.  He's light and doesn't move the rock enough.  He's perfect on his final shot and manages to draw the pin for a single point.  Koe now down 5-3 with hammer, 3 ends remain, 19.3%.

6th end, Rogers joins late from commercial break, but we see an Epping come around on their own center line guard.  Two points up and three ends to play, that guard should not be there.  I can only assume that was a mistake. Or, perhaps John was trying to entice Kevin to play around a longer guard, rather than toss up a corner (which he did). Koe second Carter Rycroft actually ticks the front guard on both his shots and by thirds rocks they have all but one stone in play. Scott Bailey is heavy on his guard attempt, Pat Simmons makes two great shots, a run back and then a raise tap.  Epping is in a heap of trouble with his first rock.  He attempts a runback double on the centre guard, opens up the rings, and leaves Koe sitting first and third.  John makes a double on his last, but rolls out and leaves Koe with a split to take three.  Koe goes from 19.3% to 63.4%.  Even a deuce by Koe would have only put him at 36.9%.  That third point was critical. 

In the 7th end, Koe makes a spectacular raise double on his first shot.  Epping then makes a very difficult double for a blank on his last shot, rather than taking one and being tied without hammer in the last end.  An interesting call that he needs to make roughly 1/3 of the time to be correct.

In the 8th end, John calls for a hit on Scott's final shot.

Epping is Red

I believe the tap would have been better, but the result appears to be a great shot....until Koe peels out the two reds in the button, and sits one buried.  John draws for one and they head to an extra end.

Some tension in the extra end, but Kevin makes a great corner freeze on his first shot and eventually comes through with the win.

Other side notes:
Tied without hammer in the 7th end (9th in a 10 end game) I much prefer to put up two guards rather than one.  John Morris did this in his game against Fowler but in other games (Jacobs in the finals as an example), I've seen skips choose to come into the rings on leads second rock. Putting up two guards greatly decreases the chance of a blank.  In this position, you need one team to score a single, either you steal or hold your opponent to one.  Every other likely outcome and you are 80% or greater to lose the game (unless of course you steal more than one).

Richard Hart has joined Mike Harris and Rob Faulds in the broadcast booth for Rogers SportsNet.  It's still early, but I suspect Harris  and Hart may eventually rival Neale and Cole as the greatest broadcast duo in Canadian television.  Did you know Bob Cole was a curler?  He has two Purple Hearts from the 1971 and '75 Briers, skipping Newfoundland.  He also played in the 1965 and '73 Canadian Mixed.  A wonder why he never tried to commentate for curling, it could have been entertaining.  Perhaps he was in booth at some point, our over 60 readers may be able to comment on this obscure piece of Canadaian Curling history.

Part II from the Canadian Open: How to Play Howard (coming soon)...