Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics – What Is Curling and How Do You Play?
The one event that I have been looking forward to the most at the winter games is Curling. The combination of chess, bocci ball, shuffle board and a household chore all together on a sheet of ice. Sounds weird, right? Well, it kind of is. At the same time, it takes a high level of precise skill and focus and is fun to watch…unless you don’t understand the game.
Wondering how to play? Here is a rundown of how the game works.
The idea of the game is to get your stones as close to the button of the house as possible. The team with their stone(s) closest to the button, at the conclusion of an end, will tally points. All stones from that team that come to rest inside the house and do not have any of the other team’s stones in-between them, are worth 1 point. After 10 ends, the team with the most points wins is the winner.
Clear as mud right? Let me clear it up a little bit and give a little more info on the lingo and game play.
Curling is played on a 150 ft. sheet of ice called a curling sheet. At each end of the playing surface is a circular target, called the house. The center of the house, similar to a bulls eye, is called the button. Unlike a bulls eye in darts, the button and the colored rings of the house do not have differing point values. The sheet has a center line stretching from end to end making it’s way directly through the buttons of each house. Another line runs side to side, also going directly through the button of the house, and intersecting with center line. This creates the tee line.
There are two teams made up of four players. Each team has eight stones and each player will throw two of those stones during an end. An end is similar to an inning in baseball or a quarter in basketball and there are 10 ends in a regular curling match.
To begin, the skip (captain) of each team will take turns, sliding on one knee down the sheet (about 30 ft.) before releasing a stone down that glides towards the house at the opposite end. Whichever skip lands their stone closest to the button earns the advantage of his or her team going second in the first end. The team that goes second in each end is holding the hammer. The hammer is the final stone that is thrown during each end. Whichever team scores during an end will go first to start the next end. If neither team scores, the hammer does not change teams.
An order is specified at the beginning of the game, similar to a batting order. Each player will throw two consecutive stones and teams will rotate turns after each players throw. An end is completed after all 16 stones have been thrown.
You must release the curling stone before a certain point, called the hog line and similar to a foul line in bowling. The stone must also travel a certain distance to the hog line at the other end of the sheet to count. The stones have a censor in them that can detect whether or not the player is still grasping the handle of the stone when it crosses the hog line. You will see a pair of small green lights on top of the stone if it is released before the hog line and the lights will glow red if the player doesn’t release the stone before the hog line. It’s called a burned stone and results in a loss of turn if one of two things happens – 1) The player doesn’t release the stone before the near hog line or 2) Their stone doesn’t make it to the far hog line at the other end of the sheet.
The players will give the stone a slight spin to make them curl (hence the name of the sport), trying to draw the stone into a certain point on the sheet. Often teams will try to place a stone or two in front of the house to set up a block. Your team can then curl their stone behind that blocker to make it more difficult for the opposing team to knock it out of the house.
Each player has a curling broom. These are used to change or keep the trajectory and speed of the stone. One player is the thrower, while two players sweep, and the other stands at the back of the house you are shooting at. The more that the sweepers brush, the less friction between the sheet and stone. This causes the stone to travel straighter and further. The less you brush, the more curl your stone will have and the sooner it will come to rest on the sheet.
Back to the tee line. In a sense, this is where your team can play a type of defense. There are two players (the skips of each team unless the skip is the thrower) standing at the back of whichever house is being shot at during that end. These players are allowed to brush/sweep the ice in order to encourage the stone of another team to move out of the house, but are not allowed to sweep until the thrown rock has passed the tee line. These players can also come assist their own team’s sweepers if they need an extra few inches out of their team’s throw. You can not sweep the ice during an opposing team’s shot except for beyond the tee line.
One of things you may notice is how the players are able glide on the ice. Each player wears one shoe that is used to grip the ice while the other has a slick bottom help the player to smoothly glide and shuffle down the sheet. There is a slipper that can be applied to the slick shoe which allows both shoes to grip. This will often be applied when a player is standing at the back of the house in the defense position.
Why are they yelling? The thrower and the back player will usually be giving commands to the sweepers. Either telling them to sweep harder/faster or slower/softer depending on the line of the stone. When you hear them yelling numbers, they are often saying where they believe the stone will be stopping on the sheet. The landing areas are broken down by numbers with 4 being in front of the house, 7 being near the button, and 12 at the back of the house. I’m still not positive on the zoning and number breakdowns of the sheet.
Outside of the strategy aspects of the game, that is your basic run through of the game. Now that you have a little more knowledge, re-read that paragraph near the top of this article and it should make more sense.
Mind you, I have only watched this game from my couch and have never actually played. I would love to change that and find a place in Tri-Cities that would allow this. You can play on a hockey rink, but that would be like playing basketball in your driveway. It works, it’s jsut not the same as playing on the proper court.
Now, who wants to get out and throw some stones?!