Curling doesn't seem that complicated, but there is quite a bit of strategy involved. It is very important for a team to have a plan and attempt to implement it. It is rarely sufficient to "play the situation." Have a game plan and be patient—but also be flexible as teams are often faced with having to change tactics. The approach a team takes to curling, either on a specific shot, during a game, or over an entire season depends on several circumstances.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
- On "heavy" (slow) ice, draw rocks into the house. Let your opponent try the "bomber-weight" take-outs. On fast ice, establish your team’s draw weight as soon as possible and keep take-outs on the quiet side. Get ready for a lot of sweeping.
- On swingy ice, take-outs are more difficult because weight and line of delivery are critical. An aggressive style of play is called for. Get your rocks in play and let your opponent shoot at them.
- On straight ice, a take-out game is encouraged. Offense must be generated with freezes and raises.
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 United States Curling Association.