What is Curling?
Curling is a game involving two four-player teams, 42-pound granite stones, brooms, and a sheet of ice. All players alternate sliding stones towards a circular target area, called a house, while their teammates sweep the ice and the skip shouts instructions. The score for each round, or end, is determined after all 16 stones are thrown, based on whichever team's rock(s) is closest to the middle of the house. Games are eight ends long and take about two hours to play, excluding Olympic games which are 10 ends.
An Overview of Curling
Curling originated in Scotland in the 1600s with players sliding flat-bottomed stones on frozen rivers. The irregular bumps on the ice and stones meant these early curlers had little control over the stone's path, making the game more luck than skill. Over time the stones gained handles, consistent shapes and weights, and eventually the sport moved indoors, culminating in the modern game you see today!
Why is it called curling? The thrower gives the stone a clockwise or counterclockwise spin or “turn” when releasing, which causes the stone's path to curve or curl as it slides down the ice. The amount of curl will vary based on the stone's speed and the ice conditions, but stones typically curl a total of 3-4 feet by the end of the throw.
The curling stone, also called a rock, weighs about 42 pounds and is 12 inches across. The bottom of a stone is concave, so only a small ring of the stone comes in contact with the ice. Originally the material for all curling stones came from islands off the coast of Scotland, but now some are from Wales too. That's because very few types of granite have the right density to meet the size and weight requirements with enough strength to stand up to repeated hits from other rocks!
The playing surface is called a sheet, and each sheet is 146 feet long and 14 feet wide with a target, called a house, at each end - for scale, here's how that compares to a hockey arena. The house is 12 feet wide and consists of three concentric rings called the four-foot, eight-foot and twelve-foot rings. The rings are only a visual aid for judging which stone is closer to the center, but a stone must touch one of the rings in the house to score. The center of the house is known as the button, and a shot intended to stop at the very middle of the house is called "drawing to the button".
Unlike smooth hockey ice, curling sheets are sprayed with water droplets which form a bumpy pebble upon freezing. The stone skips across the top of the pebble as it moves down the ice which helps the stone to curl. The pebble wears down over the course of the game which can affect the amount of curl, and sweepers intentionally wear the pebble in ways to influence the curl and distance of their shots. The sheets are scraped and re-pebbled prior to each game.
Curling shoes are similar to ordinary athletic shoes except the soles don't match - each pair has a sliding and a non-sliding sole. The sliding shoe is worn on a player's non-dominant foot and has a slippery sole, usually teflon, which is necessary for sliding when throwing, while the other shoe has a rubber surface for better traction on the ice. Many curlers will put a removable gripper around the sliding shoe between throws to have better traction when sweeping.
Gameplay & Strategy
The delivery: Also known as throwing or shooting the stone, all players take turns throwing and sweeping; when one player (e.g. the lead) throws, the players not throwing (the second and third) sweep, while the skip directs all shots from the house. When the skip throws, the third, or vice-skip, takes his role.
Three things make up the delivery of the stone:
The skip (or captain) stands in the house you are playing towards and determines the required weight, turn and line of the stone which he communicates to the thrower and sweepers with a variety of signals. The types of shots are:
The stone must be released before its front edge crosses the near hog line and it must clear the far hog line or else be removed from play, which is called a hogged shot or hogging.
What are those two people frantically sweeping doing? The path of the stone can be affected by sweepers using brushes or brooms to alter the ice, causing the stone to go further and/or not curl as much. A great deal of strategy and teamwork (and hard work by the sweepers) goes into choosing the ideal path and final placement of a stone for each situation.
Judging the speed of the ice is critical to the competitive game. The sweepers time the delivery to judge speed, either by feel or with stopwatches. On fast or “keen” ice, times might be 4.0 seconds for guards, 3.7 seconds for draws, 3.2 for normal hit weight, and 2.9 seconds for peel weight. If a draw was called and the sweepers time 3.9 seconds they will immediately start sweeping and tell the skip the stone is “light”. Good sweepers can make a stone go about 10 feet farther, or the difference from the front of the house to the back of the house.
Much of the yelling during a curling game is the skip calling the line of the shot and the sweepers calling the weight. The skip evaluates the path of the stone and tells the sweepers to sweep as necessary to maintain the intended track. The sweepers are responsible for judging the weight of the stone, ensuring the length of travel is correct and communicating the weight of the stone to the skip. It's important to note that sweeping for one reason affects the other, and oftentimes the stone needs to be swept for line but not for weight, or vice versa, causing the team to evaluate the trade-offs on the fly.
Style of Play - The draw game is characterized by offensive or aggressive play. Guards, raises, come-arounds, and freezes are all designed to score more than one point—or to steal. The shots are generally more difficult and riskier, requiring more finesse. Strategy becomes more complicated because more rocks are in play.
The take-out game is a defensive style of play in which the house is kept free of opposition rocks and the front is kept as open as possible. Conservative play is designed to keep the game close, hold a lead, or keep the opposition to one point when they have the hammer. As a result of few rocks being in play, most shots are relatively simple.
Strategic Factors - There are a number of factors to consider when formulating strategy—both on the ice and off. Make sure all team members know these factors going into every situation.
Attitude - If your team is comprised of people who love to “let it all hang out,” by all means, play the draw game. Curling is, after all, recreation. If on the other hand, your team prefers to take a more cautious approach, play the take-out game.
Ability - Make an objective analysis of each team member’s ability to draw, take-out, and sweep before your team formulates an overall strategy. Attempt to force situations that accentuate your strengths.
Your Opponent - If your opponent prefers shooting take-outs to draws, set up situations calling for draws. If your opponent has a tendency to flip out-turn take-outs wide, try to exploit it.
The Free Guard Zone - The free guard zone emphasizes the importance of a game plan more than any other factor. The positioning of lead rocks will dictate play. If these rocks are placed where the skip wants, the team can follow through with its plan—whether it is offensive or defensive. If the rocks are not placed properly, the end will develop largely on situational execution, which may be the plan of your opposition.
The Score - If your team trails by more than two points, you need rocks in play. Go to the draw game. If you lead by three or more, your objective is no longer scoring multiple points, but preventing the opposition from scoring a big end. With that in mind, keep it clean. With fewer rocks in play, you are less likely to give up more than one point in an end.
The End - Early in the game, it is important to keep the score close as you build your team’s confidence. The early ends are generally played defensively, although practice sessions before competitive games have made for more aggressive early-end play.
As the game progresses, a number of interesting and difficult strategy situations will arise. Keep your game plan in mind, but be prepared to be flexible.
During the later ends, teams will have their greatest opportunity to take control of the game. By this time, you should know the ice and the opposition’s ability. Implement the tactics that play to your team’s strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses.
The last end of a close game provides teams with their greatest strategic challenges. Teams without last rock with a narrow lead will be faced with some interesting choices as the end unfolds. The same is true for teams with the hammer, who are trailing by one. Everyone on the team should know what your objective is—to steal, to win, or play for the extra end.
The Hammer - The last-rock advantage gives you the opportunity to become more aggressive, especially after the first few ends. Skips will attempt to implement a strategy that will result in scoring more than one point, which usually means spreading rocks out.
Without the hammer, play tends to be more conservative. Skips will try to limit the opposition to scoring only one point, which usually means directing play toward the middle of the sheet.
Ice Conditions - Generally speaking, the worse the ice conditions, the more aggressive your strategy becomes. Use the ice as your ally, as your opponent struggles to overcome it. Here are some strategies to deal with various types of ice:
Rock Placement - In deciding where to place rocks, the most important strategic factors are the Free Guard Zone (FGZ), the score, and who has the hammer.
The team without the hammer will tend to place rocks toward the middle of the sheet to control access to the four-foot circle. The team with the hammer will tend to place rocks away from the middle of the sheet to keep access to the four-foot open, and create opportunities to score multiple points by “splitting the house.”
Conservative strategy largely ignores the FGZ and lead rocks are placed in the house. This is often done early in the game, or when your team leads by more than two points. Aggressive strategy utilizes the FGZ and lead rocks are placed in front of the house. This is often done once lead players have established their draw weight, or when your team trails by more than two points.
It’s important to remember that each team’s strategy is aimed at both placing rocks where they want them and preventing their opponent from doing the same.
Strategy information kindly provided by the Granite Curling Club and the United States Curling Association.
The goal in curling is to have your stones closest to the "button", or center of the house, at the conclusion of each end. Only the team whose rock is closest to the button can score, and they earn one point per stone closer to the button their opponents' closest rock. That's a mouthful, so here are a few examples to help explain:
A rock must be in the house to score, which includes any rock partially inside the house. If a stone is not at least the touching the outside ring of the house then it does not count. If no rocks are in the house at the conclusion of an end, the end it is "blanked" and no one scores. As described in the Strategy section, sometimes it's advantageous not to score.
While Olympic games now use a baseball-style scoreboard, most curling clubs use one that's similiar but 'backwards'. The numbers in the center row indicate the points, and the numbers above and below represent the end the team reached that many total points. So in the example below, Red is winning 4 to 3 against Blue. Red scored 2 points in the 2nd end, and 2 more points in the 5th end, giving them a total of 4. Meanwhile, Blue scored 1 point in each of the 1st, 3rd, and 4th ends for a total of 3. If there were any blank ends, the end marker would be hung on the top left, next to the Blank label.
Keeping score this way has a few advantages. You can quickly tell who is winning by whichever team has a end marker furthest to the right, and easily tell the difference in score without needing a separate running tally like in baseball. Furthermore, it requires only one set of number markers, 1 through 8, which is helpful as curling is generally a low scoring game with 0, 1, or 2 points scored most ends. If we were using a baseball-style scoreboard in the example above, we'd need three 1 markers and two 2s, and the game is only half over!
For more information about scoring, please see Potomac Curling Club’s Scoreboard 101.
Spirit of Curling
Curling is a game with a strong tradition of sportsmanship, which is called the "Spirit of Curling". The most prominent examples of the Spirit of Curling are:
Helpful Curling Links
Here are a few useful curling resources to find more information about this great sport.
Current Rules and Regulations
Associations & Organizations
Supplies & Equipment
News and Information