Curling can be described as a cross between lawn bowling and shuffleboard, played on a long, narrow sheet of ice by teams of four. The players of each team take turns sliding sixteen heavy granite stones, eight per team, to the far end of the ice sheet. The goal of the game is to slide a rock down the ice to end up as close to the centre of a marked target area as possible.
Each curling team has four members: the lead, second, third (or vice-skip), and skip, who is also the captain of the team. This refers to the order of play. Each member of the team delivers two rocks, alternating with the corresponding member of the other team. The skips of the two teams shoot last, which gives them the hardest shots. The last rock of all is called the ‘hammer.’
The stones, or rocks, are cut into a low, flattened ovoid, with a red or yellow handle fastened on top. The bottom of the curling stone is concave, so that only the edges of the stone are in contact with the ice. This is why curling stones ‘curl.’ An expert curler can deliver a stone so that it misses the front rocks, then ‘curls’ in behind them in the same way a hook ball in bowling turns at the last second to strike the pins.
Curling brooms are used to sweep the ice in front of a moving rock, temporarily melting the ice and decreasing its friction. This decreases the curl of the rock. It doesn’t make the rock go faster, but it keeps the rock from slowing down as much. All the shouting from the skip while the rock is sliding down the sheet is to tell the sweepers how hard to sweep to get the desired amount of curl. The sweepers are so busy sweeping and trying to avoid touching any of the rocks that they can’t see how their rock is heading, so they trust the skip completely. The broom is also used for balance when delivering the rock.
The target area consists of four concentric rings, and is called the ‘house.’ The innermost circle of the house is roughly the same size as a curling stone. It is called the ‘button.’
There are three types of shots in curling: the guard, the draw, and the takeout. Each has a different tactical function. The guard is a stone intended to stop in front of the house, not too far past the hog line. The draw is a stone intended to stop in the house. The takeout is a stone delivered in order to remove another stone from play. The free guard zone rule does not allow most takeouts until each team has delivered at least two stones. This forces teams to play with at least one and potentially as many as four rocks in front of the house, greatly increasing the tactical difficulty of play.
The goal of all this maneuvering is to get a rock as close to the button as possible. Other stones set up a guarding position, making it very difficult for the other team to remove the inner stones.
Scoring takes place at the conclusion of each end. An end is complete after each team has thrown all of its eight rocks. A match consists of eight ends in recreational play, or ten ends in tournament play. If at the end of a match the score is tied, one or more extra ends are played until the tie is broken.
Only the team with the rock closest to the button can score. Even if the other team has more rocks in the house, they will not score if they don’t have the closest rock to the button. This means that only one team can score per end.
The stone which is both in the house and closest to the centre of the house counts for one point. After that, every other stone in the house belonging to the same team, so long as it is closer than every other stone of the opposite team, counts for an additional point.
The team with last rock advantage usually gains at least one point from the end, but not always. When the other team scores instead, it is known as a ‘steal.’
It is also possible for neither team to score. This happens when neither team ends up with rocks in the house, or when the two closest stones to the centre belong to opposite teams and are exactly the same distance away from the centre. This is called a blank end.
Last rock advantage (the hammer) always goes to the team which did not score in the previous end. A team may choose to blank an end and retain last rock advantage into the next end, rather than score only one point and lose that advantage.
Sometimes one team is so far ahead of another that the other is very unlikely to catch up. In such cases, it is common for the other team to concede. In tournament play, it is usually required that eight ends of play be complete before conceding. Another common concession point is when one team no longer has enough rocks remaining or in play to catch up. In tournament games, a team may only concede a game when it is their turn to deliver a stone.
Even though curling is as competitive as any sport, good sportsmanship and the spirit of friendly play are paramount. The Curler’s Code of Ethics is the first part of every curling rulebook. Number one on the list is the statement, “I will play the game with a spirit of good sportsmanship.” Although both teams will work their hardest to win, its players find it much more important to remain friends afterward than to win by any means possible.