Editor: Chris Daffern
An Introduction to Strategy
Are you a new curler and have come to appreciate there is more to this game than simply heaving rocks up and down the ice like balls in a bowling alley? Or you may have played for a while and with experience you have come to understand there really is a reason some call this game “chess on ice”. As Bob Weeks writes in “Curling for Dummies”, “It’s a thinking person’s game”. … “There is actually a great deal of thought that goes into deciding just where you’re going to try to place those rocks when you throw them.”
Strategy can be simple or complicated, depending on the skip, the level of competition, and the skill level or abilities of the players in front of the skip. Of course, it doesn’t always go according to plan. That’s another part of what makes curling so much fun. No two games are alike; the unpredictability is always appealing.
The Canadian Curling Association observes that “Strategy is commonly defined as “deciding what shot to play”. Although this is an important element, it is not all there is to strategy. More broadly defined, it is “the decision making process a team goes through before, during and after a game”. This includes setting goals, making game plans, deciding game style, shot selection, and game evaluation. With this in mind it is essential that all team members contribute to “team strategy” and as a result require a solid understanding of the following:
- Basic terminology relative to strategy. (http://www.curling.ca/start-curling/glossary-of-curling-terms/)
- The factors that influence shot selection decisions.
- How the Free Guard Zone Rule affects strategy and shot selection.
- Basic strategy relative to last rock advantage.
- Methods for playing different ice conditions.
Download the complete “4-Rock Free Guard Zone Strategy Guide” (Adobe PDF Document)”
This may all sound pretty high level or complicated but it is true to one degree or another whether you are an elite, professional, competitive team or a social, recreational or novice league curler or anywhere in between. The difference is simply finding the balance for your comfort zone and the level you are playing at.
In a short piece of this nature, it’s impossible to describe every strategic variation. There are simply too many permutations and combinations of circumstances. But if you are a player who wants to deliver your rocks with a purpose and understanding, we can point you to some resources to get you started; e.g. chapter 14 of “Curling for Dummies” and the CCA website. After that it’s up to you and up to you to ask questions of your skip and vice when you don’t understand a called shot. (e.g. Why are you calling this shot? What are we trying to achieve? How much weight do I need to throw for this shot? Are there options (a.k.a. Plan “B”) if the shot is not made?)
Another way to learn strategy: there is more television coverage of our game than ever. This allows viewers insight into how the best in the game make strategic decisions. Not only are we able to listen in on their conversations about shot selection but we also have the advantage of hearing from expert program hosts and analysts. It’s a great way to learn the strategic part of the game. Here’s a viewer’s hint: as you watch and listen, try to anticipate the next shot before it is announced. Make critical thinking part of your viewing experience. When you reach the point where you are calling the same shots, or many of them anyway, then you’ve got it. Just remember though, there is often more than one possible call.
Curling strategy is all about thinking. Thinking about what shot to play. Thinking about what shot your opposition is going to play. Thinking ahead to the next shots. Thinking ahead to the next end. Understanding the ice conditions and what is possible versus what is problematic.
Understanding the theory is one thing; applying it in practice is quite another. At the end of the day, there’s really no substitute for real-game situations so just get out there and play.