Strategy Basics

New skips may find themselves bewildered by all the strategies available. What shots do you call for your rink ?? Calling shots is easy when the house is wide open, but then rocks clutter up everything. Even experienced skips, especially if they are not familiar with area curling, can find that new strategies are needed to curl on our ice. In this column, I will try to outline some basics on deciding what shots to call..

These strategies apply to league games at our club. I mention this because your strategy should change as your setting and opponents change. For example, I would not use some of these strategies when playing on consistent ice at a dedicated curling rink, nor against an experienced rink, as you might meet during a bonspiel at another club. I will outline some those strategies in a future column. This article applies to games played at our club league games.

The basic strategy approach is simple – put rocks in the house. Pile them in the house, the more the better. Lots of your rocks in the house will allow you to score more often, and in larger numbers. This is so obvious, you’d think everyone would follow it. However, it amazes me how often I see rinks guarding that single shot rock they have in the house.

Rocks in the house put pressure on the other skip. If you get your opponent to think about the two ( or three or four ) rocks in the house, it can throw them off their game. A skip who is worried about what may happen if he misses a shot is more likely to miss one or two shots.

My second strategy rule is don’t call for guard shots. I say this for a few reasons. Many of our club members are not proficient at take out shots. It takes experience to be good at take out shots, and the tricky ice we can have makes for a low percentage on take outs. Put your rocks in the house.
Guards seem to occur on their own. Someone, either on your rink or your opponent’s rink, is light on a shot and it ends up as a guard in front of the house. You can use these “natural” guards to your advantage.

In addition, guards can cause you problems. When you have last rock in an end, you don’t want to have the situation where it is hard to make a draw shot because guards are blocking your path. When you have the hammer, it is always best to keep the front of the house as clear as you can.
This guard rule is not a hard and fast one. Sometimes it makes sense to call for a guard shot. For example:

  • It’s the last end, and your shot rock can win the game
  • There are some many rocks in play, a draw shot may cause more damage, so just plug it up.
  • The other rink or skip is good at take out shots.

These would be situations where I would use guards. However, wait till the game has progressed a couple of ends till reverting to guards.

A better approach than guards is to figure out the tricky spots on your ice. These are spots where the ice falls or a ridge is present, or all of the above. If you can get a draw shot into one of these spots, it is usually better than a guard. I have been amazed when some rinks waste three or four shots trying to take out a rock in a tricky spot. Just because a rock is open doesn’t mean that it is easy to hit.

A third strategy basic for skips is avoid situations where you are faced with making impossible shots. Double angle raise take out shots are nice for the throngs of people we have in the stands, but they are not high percentage shots. Make it easy on yourself.

Try to build up an end so that when it comes your turn to shoot, you can call the shots you are best at. If you forte is draw shots, keep a lane open to the house so that you have a way to draw in. Avoid those guards ( see above ) that give you only a narrow port to get through.

If I have a person on my rink, especially playing third, who is good at take out shots, I will have him or her regularly clearing rocks. A couple of years ago, a member of my rink named Shaun was my “clean up” man. He was dependable enough to knock the opponent’s rocks out of the house, or to get rid of guards that were in the way. That allowed me easier, higher percentage shots when it came to my turn.

Another useful strategy basic is to call “Plan B” shots for your rink. This is a shot where there are two ( or more ) attractive outcomes for a shot. Examples:

  • Your opponent has a rock in the house behind the T-line. Call a draw shot that should end up in front of the opponent’s rock. If they are heavy, the opponent’s rock can serve as “backing”, and your shot may take out or at least tap back the opponent’s rock.
  • Your opponent has a rock in the house, partially covered by a guard. Call a take out or heavy draw shot that should slide close to the guard. If the rock curls too much, it will still peel the guard, leaving the house open for the next shot.
  • Your rock is one foot in front of the house. Call a shot to draw around that rock into the house. If it curls too much, it will wick the front rock, and one or possibly both rocks will end up in the house.

The strategy of calling shots in curling is a detailed topic. Experts write books on it. However, as with many things, focus on these basic strategies. With the unpredictable ice we play on, keeping to a simple strategy is usually the approach. If you use these ideas, you will find your rinks scoring more points during our league games.

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