The National has already started but let's take a quick look at a couple of scenarios from the Masters.
The first situation involves the 7th end of the Men's semi-final between Kevin Koe and Mike McEwen. This would have been a great game to watch but television viewers were instead served a potpourri of shots from all four games taking place. I understand the desire to capture the best shots across all games and the SportsNet crew has improved with this broadcasting approach, but I would prefer to watch a single strong game and see how ends develop rather than jump around. McEwen scored a critical three in the sixth end and we never saw how it happened. Curling's version of the NFL Red Zone isn't something I'm interested in watching but I wonder if other viewers would disagree.
Following a pick on McEwen second Matt Wozniak's final shot, Brent Laing drops a corner freeze into the rings that sits 5th stone and, up two points without hammer, Mike is looking at this:
McEwen is Yellow
Despite sitting first, third and fourth, McEwen is not thrilled with his position. A runback on the corner guard could drive the Laing stone onto his shot on the top four. A straight peel could help but the staggered stones will conttinue to create trouble. At this stage everything Mike does should be to avoid three or more points. He would gladly hand over a deuce right now and take last rock tied into the final end. After some discussion they chose a corner freeze onto second shot. BJ is light with his attempt and sits beside the corner of the red stone in the top twelve. Kennedy then hits and rolls behind cover and things have gotten worse:
McEwen is Yellow
BJ now noses with his runback of the corner guard and when the dust settles Koe is sitting first and second behind cover and fifth stone biting. With a Kennedy hit on the back stone Koe then sits 1,2,3 and 5.
Ultimately, Mike makes two spectacular shots, a triple followed by a runback double and Koe has no choice but to blank the end. The McEwen squad could simply look back at this end and thank their skipper for saving their bacon, or they could examine whether they put themselves in the best position possible.
Consider if they had simply peeled the guard on BJs first shot. Granted, he came light on his freeze attempt and a made shot would have created a better result, but even if he had come into the rings, Koe would have been left some type of hit and roll behind cover or freeze into an expanding pile. If BJ peels, Koe now either replaces the corner guard, freezes to his second shot stone or attempts a hit and roll. Lets look at each:
Corner guard, Mike now can chose to peel or try the same corner freeze with BJs second shot. If he comes light (as he did), we're into the same mess. If he makes the shot, Koe now has one less rock to try and score 3 or more points.
If Kevin freezes to his own rock, Mike can blast the staggered rocks, but will have some risk of jamming the red stone onto his shot stone top 4. Koe would then sit 1,2 and 3 and will likely score three unless Mike is able to make a triple or runback double, depending on where Koe places his first shot. Assuming both rocks are buried, a better choice in this case would be for Mike to hit and roll off his shot stone and remove one or both of the buried red stones. In the case that Kevin is not fully buried, Mike may be able to blast one or more of the reds out of play.
With a hit and roll Koe will have his two rocks close together, Mike can now blast the staggered rocks on his first shot and Kevin will have the option to guard his two stones or draw to the open side to sit 3. If he sits three, Mike should have a high probability of a double (and possibly triple) and Koe will likely end up with his deuce. A guard will leave a runback for Mike to try and kill at least one Koe stone and again, Koe will get a deuce.
I'm not certain trying to corner freeze on BJs first shot is the best decision. I'd prefer to open things up at this stage, and not play further into a draw-behind-corner strategy. However, you can see that all scenarios will result in Mike needing to make a big shot to get out of the end. Interesting how this all resulted from a corner freeze from Brent that left McEwen sitting 3. Reminds me that staggered rocks are a real pain in the derriere and teams should try to create this type of situation when they are behind in order to stymie their opponent.
Women's Finals, 6th end, Homan is up 3-2 with hammer. On second Joanne Courtney's last stone they attempt a difficult soft weight hit (green line) rather than peeling a long guard (blue line).
Homan is Yellow
Perhaps they misjudged the amount of curl, but the shot is swept to get past the guard but does not curl at the end leaving two red stones in the four foot. A poor first shot by Sweeting third Lori Olson-Johns and subsequent hit and roll by Emma Miskew helps Homan escape the early danger. Sweeting then has Lori attempt a long runback (green line) that overcurls for a straight peel and Homan sits 2 with 5 rocks to go in the end.
Homan is Yellow
I'm not thrilled by this call and clearly the nose hit is critical to leave a centre guard that could help them escape the end or even sneak out a steal. They could have instead tried a soft weight hit with the inturn, the exact same shot that Val makes on her first shot two rocks later!
Rachel and her team have some deliberation, before deciding to throw a guard. Commentator Mike Harris asks Kevin and Joan their preferred options. Both are wary of the guard. I agree. Rachel has a one up lead with hammer and clogging up the centre here could leave her without a path for a final draw if the end starts to go badly. Granted, it looks great for her right now, but she is essentially assuming her tight centre guard can be promoted later if she gets into trouble. She is placing stones that give her a chance at a big end but also leave her opponent a possible escape hatch. The problem is, Homan doesn't need to score more than two points. With a deuce her Win Expectancy (WE) = 94%. In fact, scoring 1 is still a great position (WE= 83%) and her only real mistake would be to allow Val to steal (WE=62%).
In the end, Rachel makes an angle raise for two and goes on to win the game. Proving once again that questionable strategy only becomes apparent when it leads to a bad result.
Until next time...