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Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Quick One from the Canada Cup

Why?  My wife asked this question when I told her I was headed 90 minutes away to Camrose, Alberta to watch the 2014 version of the Canada Cup.  I have a longer, more wordy and less Mathy article coming out in the next digital edition of The Curling News that elaborates on this question.  With that effort and the Canadian Open starting this week, I have little time to dig too deep into the play over the last weekend.  But I wanted to touch on the return to 10 ends, the Classic version of a free guard zone and blanking.

Ten ends seemed long.  Am I right?  It can only be a matter of time until the move to 8 ends for all events.  If not for the sake of the players than for the sake of the television viewer.  3+ hours is a long time to sit on a couch.  

The four rock free guard zone was noticeable in subtle and obvious ways.  Teams appeared to be adjusting to a more conservative approach when up without hammer.  Suprisingly, several gambling web sites had the Over/Under Totals for mens and womens games at 12.5 points.  This was a clear betting opportunity as historically we've seen mens games (and Rachel Homan's games) at 11.5 for 10 end contests.  16 of 23 mens games were under.  A $100 bet on every under could have netted around $600 return.  However, I missed out.  I didn't realize until mid-way through the event, then missed betting some later draws because of work and managed to get caught in 3 of the overs with the five bets I was able to place.  I'd be shocked if this type of opportunity comes again.

There were also more blank ends than we've seen recently.  Two in particular where rather dramatic.  During their Semi-Final, both Mike McEwen and Glenn Howard both made what could be considered "risky" attempts at a blank.  TSN announcers Russ Howard, Cheryl Bernard and Vic Rauter all shared their surpise in each case.  Where they correct decisions?

In the 3rd End, McEwen is tied with hammer, 0-0.  Glenn makes a hit and role with his last shot and Mike faces a difficult draw-tap (blue line) to get his one point.  

McEwen isYellow

The guard is long enough that he instead chooses a board weight hit and roll out (green line) to blank.  He makes the shot with a few inches to spare, but it introduced risk that Howard might steal a single point.  At this stage, a blank has a Win Expectancy (WE) of roughly 61% and taking taking one drops McEwen to about 57%.  A steal will result in a WE of 43%.  The decision appears reckless except that the shot for one is no piece of cake either.  Mike added some difficulty to the shot but as long as he get the "right miss" and ensures he removes the Howard stone, the worst outcome is taking the single point.  Hard to estimate exactly the additional risk Mike was taking, but the way he's been playing this season, you can't fault McEwen for believing it's the right call.

In the 7th End, Howard is down 3-1 with hammer and facing a McEwen stone buried in the twelve foot ring out on the wings.  

McEwen isYellow

Rather than choose the simple draw for one point (blue line), they decide to try the soft weight hit on the McEwen stone and attempt to role out for the blank (green line).  This shot does add some additional risk but they only needed to move their opponents stone a short distance, so it appeared much easier than what Mike had tried earlier.  Still, with the corner guard in front and risk of either crashing or sailing wide, it was clearly more difficult than the draw for one.  If Howard takes one their WE will be 16.5%.  By blanking they increased their odds to 19.1%.  A steal and they drop to a dismal 7%.  At first glance it looks like a poor decision but the risk in actuality seemed rather low.  Glenn should be able to remove the stone most of the time and the common miss would be sticking around for one, the same as the draw.  I've also noted before, a 2.6% difference might seem small, but as your odds decrease, every chance to increase WE has a greater advantage.  Similar to how chips in a poker tournament are worth more as you have fewer, the same situation for WE.  Another way to consider the situation.  A 2.6% increase over 16.5% is 16% improvement.  That same 2.6% change in McEwen's WE only amounts to about 3% difference.

I enjoy 5 rock FGZ and 8 end games, but that semi-final (and Howard versus Koe in the round robin) were fantastic games with tension throughout.  Maybe there's room for more than one type of game. Maybe we could even go back to a 3 rock event, or even a no guard zone but all teams need to use corn brooms.  The possibilities are endless.

Next stop, The Canadian Open.

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