Curling 101: Know These Terms, Strategies Before Team USA's Historic Game

Here are the basics of curling to keep handy

Team USA is headed to a men's Olympic curling final for the first time. Skip John Shuster and teammates Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner will take on Sweden on Feb. 24 for the historic gold medal match.  

"They're a fantastic curling team," Shuster said of his competitors, The Associated Press reported. He promised "to have some fun and put on a show." 

Some fans may need to brew some coffee to catch the action live. The final kicks off at 1:35 a.m. ET on Saturday. You can track the game's play- by-play here.  

Haven't been paying much attention or know how the sport works? First, where have you been these Olympics? Second, no worries. Here's what to know. 

The Basics
A game is made up of 10 ends and lasts about 2 hours and 40 minutes. The two teams take turns throwing eight stones each. 

Players start a stone moving from a rubber block called the hack. Players swing the stone back and then forward before pushing off from the hack and sliding along the ice. Players must release the stone before the front edge touches the hog line, a line running width-wise through the center of the tee at the other end. 

After a stone is thrown, players are allowed to sweep the ice in front of the stone. Sweeping clears the ice of any debris that might slow the stone down or send it off course. Sweeping also melts a thin layer of ice that reduces friction and thus increases the distance the rock travels. 

Sweeping is allowed by any player on the throwing team between the two tee lines. Players are not allowed to sweep opponents’ stones in that area. 

Behind the tee line at the playing end (where the stones stop moving), only one player from each team may sweep at any one time. This may be any player of the delivering team, but only the skip or vice-skip (third) of the non-delivering team. 

Only stones in motion – termed “running stones” – may be swept. Players may not touch any stones while sweeping. Also, they may only sweep in front of the stone, in a direction perpendicular to the direction of motion. 

Players are allowed to sweep stones that are set in motion by other stones.

After all the stones are thrown in an end, the team with the closest stone to the button (the 1-foot circle at the center of the circular scoring area known as the "house") wins that round. They get a point for each stone in the house closer to the button than their rival's closest stone is.

The players
A curling team is made up of four players. The player that shoots first is known as the lead, the player who goes next is the second, the next player is the third and the final player to shoot is the fourth. 

The skip of the team is considered the leader of the team and directs the play of others. He is responsible for the team’s shot selection. The skip typically shoots last, but can play any other position. During an end, he stands behind the house and holds his broom as a target for the other players. When the skip is shooting, the vice-skip is in charge of the house. In general, the third serves as the vice-skip, though the lead or second could as well.

Types of shots
The strategy of curling mainly involves shot selection. There are several different types of shots: 

Draw: A shot designed to stop inside or in front of the house (the concentric circles at the end of the rink). This is the basic scoring shot. 

Freeze: A form of a draw that stops in front of another rock. 

Guard: A shot that stops in front of the house and is intended to prevent the opponent from hitting a stone in the house. 

Hit-and-roll: Generally, a shot designed to take out an opponent’s rock and then roll the shot rock to a designated spot. It is also possible to play a hit-and-roll off the team’s own rock. 

Peel: A shot designed to remove another stone, as well as the shot rock. 

Raise: A type of draw designed to bump a rock to another position. 

Takeout: A shot that removes an opponent’s stone from play. A takeout that is designed to remove a guard is called a peel. 

It’s important to realize that these are just the basic shots. At Olympic-level competition, a shot might be a combination of several of the above. For instance a “raise-takeout” would be hitting a stone in play and bumping that stone into another stone, which is taken out of play. 

In-turn vs. Out-turn
In addition to picking the type of shot, the skip also directs his teammate throwing the stone whether to play an in-turn or an out-turn. A player executes an in-turn by turning the inside of his palm towards his body when releasing the stone. A player executes an out-turn by turning the outside of his palm away from his body. 

Stones curve, or curl, as they proceed down the ice – which is where the sport derives its name. Players impart spin on the stone using the handle; the curl allows for better control and also provides a way to shoot around other stones. For a right-handed player an out-turn curls right to left and an in-turn curls left to right. How the stones are positioned on the ice dictates which type of shot the skip calls. 

The Hammer
The last shot of an end is called the hammer. The team that shoots last has the advantage. A team will sometimes be willing to give up a point to the other team in order to secure the hammer for the next end. (The team that has earned one or more points shoots first in the next end, while the team that earned zero points receives the hammer.) 

Also the team with the hammer will sometimes “blank” the end. This means that instead of taking a single point in the end, they will clear the house so no one scores, thus keeping the hammer for the next end. It is considered a victory for the team without the hammer if they make the other team take only one point. In most cases, the team with the hammer would rather keep the hammer than score one point. A team will almost never blank an end if it has the opportunity to score two or more points. 

Playing with The Lead
If a team has a significant lead going into the final few ends, it will usually play very defensively. The team with the lead will play lots of takeout shots and generally try to keep the sheet free of stones. The idea is that if the game is played “clean,” with few stones on the ice, there is less of a chance to get into trouble and to allow the opponent to score several points and get back into the game. 

If a team is behind by more than a few points going into the final ends, it will play exactly the opposite strategy, trying to get as many rocks on the ice as possible, and thus create a situation where it can score multiple points in a single end. This strategy is made possible by the Free Guard Zone Rule. The Free Guard Zone refers to the area between the hogline and the house. During the first four stones of an end, no stone in this area may be removed from play by the opposition.

Generally, all four players are involved in each shot. Besides the shooter and the skip, the other two players sweep the stone’s path when necessary.

The Roaring Game: What curlers are yelling

Bill Stopera, a member of the Ardsley Curling Club who played with Team USA's Skip John Shuster and Vice Skip Tyler George, explained some of the commands he heard when playing with them during the National Championships. 

"Whoa! Whoa!!" means to stop.

"Hard" means to sweep harder.

"Right to it" means to sweep to the right.

"Yup" means to sweep away.

Because curling is such an intense sport sometimes if the skips aren't yelling their commands it could lead to a misunderstanding between the team. 

"The inside of the rink is extremely loud so if you don't yell chances are your team might not understand," Stopera said. "'Go!' sounds a lot like 'No!' and you have to know that. In curling, there's just a sense of urgency and at the [Olympic] level you have to go hard." 

Curling has been named "The Roaring Game," and in Canada, the curling pre-trials are conveniently called the "Road to the ROAR"  

A Glossary on How to Speak Curling, Broken Down Into Categories.

Players: Who shoots first and makes up the curling team

Another name for a curling team. It is made up of four players: the lead, the second, the third and the skip. 

The first player who shoots for a team in each end. 

The player who shoots second for a team in each end. 

The player that shoots third in each end. The third is also often the vice-skip. 

The person who stands in the house and directs the game when the skip is shooting. When the skip shoots, the vice-skip holds the broom as the target. The vice-skip is often the third. 

The leader of a curling team. He directs the team’s strategy and shot selection and typically holds a broom as a target for the other three players to shoot at. He usually shoots last. 

The player who shoots fourth for a team in each end. Normally the person who shoots fourth is the skip. This term is only used if that person is not the skip.

Playing area: Where the skip releases the stone and where it goes

Back line
The line at the back of the house. Rocks completely beyond the line are out of play. 

The 1-foot circle at the center of the house.

Center line
The line splitting the length of the ice sheet. 

Free Guard Zone
The area between the hog line (the line behind which a player must release a stone) and the house. During the first four stones of an end, no stone in this area may be removed from play by the opposition. 

The rubber foothold where curlers begin their delivery. It is located 125 feet from the center of the house. 

Hog line
The line behind which a player must release a stone. It is located 21 feet from the tee. If a stone does not travel beyond the far hog line, it is removed from play. 

The circular scoring area. It is 12 feet in diameter and is made up of four concentric circles. The outside ring is 12 feet in diameter, the next ring is eight feet in diameter, the next ring is four feet in diameter and the inside ring is one foot in diameter. 

Another term for the house. 

The playing area. It is 146 feet long and allows play in both directions. 

The center of the house. Scoring is determined by which rock is closest to the tee. Also commonly referred to as the “pin.”

How ice conditions affect the game

Heavy Ice
Slow ice. It means the rocks have to be thrown harder. The opposite of keen ice. 

Keen Ice
Fast ice. Rocks must be thrown less hard in these conditions. The opposite of heavy ice. 

The droplets of water applied to a sheet of ice before a game. They freeze and reduce friction between the stone and the ice. 

Straight ice
A condition in which the ice does not cause the stones to curl very much. 

“Swingy” Ice
A condition in which the ice causes the stones to curl a lot.

Rocks: The difference between a shot rock and a burned rock

A stone just touching the outer edge of the house. It could potentially score a point. 

A slang term for the last stone of an end. 

When a rock is removed from play because of an infraction. It is known as “a burned rock.” 

Any stone in the house. It is a potential point. 

A rock between the hog line and the house used to prevent the opposition from hitting a rock in the house. 

The last stone shot in each end. 

The rotation applied to the stone upon release. 

A stone that fails to reach the far hog line and is removed from play. 

The term for a rock that has been thrown too hard. 

The term for a rock that has been thrown with too little force. 

A rock delivered inside the intended line of delivery. 

Also known as a stone. Curling stones are made of a rare, dense granite that is quarried on Scotland’s Ailsa Craig. The stones weigh, on average, 42 pounds (19.1 kg) and are polished. 

Shot rock
At any time during an end, the stone that is closest to the tee. 

Straight handle
A stone that is released without any rotation. 

A rock delivered outside the intended line.

How to refer to different curling shots

A scoring shot. It is designed to stop inside or in front of the house. 

A form of a draw that stops in front of and next to another rock. 

Generally, a shot designed to take out an opponent’s rock and then roll the shot rock to a designated spot. It is also possible to play a hit-and-roll off the team’s own rock. 

A shot in which the front of the player’s hand is facing away from the body when the player finishes his delivery. For a right-handed player, the rock will curl from left to right. 

A shot in which the back of the player’s hand is facing away from the body when the player finishes his delivery. For a right-handed player, the rock will curl from right to left. 

A shot to remove a guard or guards. 

The slang term for a rock getting knocked off-line by a foreign object on the ice. The term comes from the phrase, “the rock picked something up.” It is almost always used as a verb – “My rock picked on that last shot.”

A type of draw that knocks another rock into the house.

A type of shot that removes another rock from play.

Double takeout
A takeout shot that clears two opposing stones from the house.

Other terms
More curling terms to know. 

Blank end
An end in which no points are scored. 

Bonspiels (BAHN-shpeel)
Curling tournaments. 

The curve the stone makes as it travels down the ice. 

The motion of the curler as the stone is being shot. 

Similar to an inning in baseball. One end is complete when all 16 rocks – two per person, eight per team in men’s and women’s curling, and five per team in mixed doubles – have been shot. The score is determined at the conclusion of each end. Games are made up of 10 ends for men’s and women’s curling and eight ends for mixed doubles. 

Extra End
An additional end played to break a tie at the end of regulation. 

A command which instructs players to sweep harder. 

Last stone draw
A contest conducted before every round robin game in which each team delivers a single stone to the tee, or “pin,” at the home end. The resulting distance is measured and can be used to determine which team has the choice of delivering the first or second stone in the first end. 

The space between two lying stones, large enough for another to pass through. 

To score in an end when not shooting the last stone (i.e. the hammer). 

The amount of force with which a rock is shot.

—Daniel Macht and James Best contributed to this story.

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