Curling Strategy With Hammer
Let's learn about how to play an end when your team has the hammer. As we have learned before, the hammer is the last shot in the end. The hammer is advantageous because there is no reactionary shot that can be made by your opponent. When you have the hammer, your team should score 2 or more points. This section will be dedicated to scoring 2 or more points with the hammer.
Strategy with the Hammer
When your team has the hammer, it is important to follow a strategy so that your team can score 2 or more points. When your team has the hammer, you strategy for the end is rather offensive. One of the main strategies when your team has the hammer is to keep the middle of the sheet open. The goal of this strategy is to ensure that you will always have access to the center of the house and the button. As we proceed in this section, keep note of this concept. If you try to keep the middle of the house open, the chances of scoring 2 or more points become higher.
Starting the End
The beginning of the end is a good indicator of how successful your team will perform in trying to score 2 or more points. Throughout the end, we need to make sure that we keep the middle of the sheet clear. Therefore, your team will want to throw corner guards. A good corner guard will end up in the middle of the guard zone and be able to protect a stone that would be drawn to the outer edge of the 8 Foot.
Since we know what type of corner guards to throw, how many of them should be thrown? To start off the end, you only need to throw one corner guard. Since you have the hammer, the opponent will begin to peel your corner guards away. Therefore, we want that corner guard to be able to protect a stone for some period of time, even if it is only one shot. The skip can choose which side of the sheet to throw the corner guard on. Most of the time, it will not matter which side it is thrown on. Thus, the first shot your team will throw is a corner guard.
The next shot thrown by the lead needs to be drawn into the house. By placing rocks in the house early, you are applying pressure to the opponent. Where should we draw into the house? Since we threw a guard up previously, we can draw around that corner guard into the house. The draw should end up behind the guard so that the opponent cannot remove it from play and force your team to 1 point. Therefore, the stone must not be directly behind the guard. The guard must protect it so that the thrower cannot see the draw from the hack. This will ensure that your team is sitting at least one stone in the house in the early portion of the end.
Middle of the End - First Outcome
As the seconds begin to throw their stones, it is common to see some guards peeled. Therefore, your offensive moves will be reactions to what your opponent (who is acting defensively) does with their shot. Since they are trying to force you to 1 point, they may peel your guard so they have access to your stone in the house. If they peel your guard, you can see that they would be able to remove your stone in the house during their next shot.
Instead of allowing this to happen, you can throw another guard to protect your stone in the house. Just like the first guard thrown, it should protect the stone so that the opponent cannot see the stone in the house from their vantage point in the hack. In this case, the opponent may continue to peel the guards that your team throws. Once you reach the 'end of the end' (which we will learn about soon), you will need to play more aggressively and stop worrying about your guard.
Middle of the End - Second Outcome
As the seconds begin to throw their stones, your opponent may try to throw a corner freeze to your draw in the outer 8 Foot. Thus, it will be difficult to remove their stone without removing your stone as well. Another shot your opponent could throw would be a draw to the Button or 4 Foot, which would apply pressure to your team to score 2 or more points.
For this outcome, it is best to begin clearing the middle of the sheet. Therefore, your team will need to remove your opponent's center guard (it is likely there will be one) or stones near the Button and 4 Foot (if there are no center guards). By doing this, you are clearing a path to the house so you can score 2 or more points.
If your opponent continuously replaces the center guards that you are peeling, try to figure out some other way of getting around the guard to takeout the opponent's stones. One idea would be to corner freeze to a shot rock, and then use a backline or board weight on your next shot to move those stones behind the tee line, and give your team a chance of scoring two points.
As you begin to approach the 'end of the end', you will need to start thinking of a concrete plan of action to score 2 or more points. Begin to look at the available paths to the Button, and determine whether your stone in the outer 8 Foot will be able to count for scoring. If not, you can use it as a rock to hit and roll into the 4 Foot, or work on drawing around the center guards.
Finishing the End
As you move on to the vice's last stone and the skip's stones, it is important to come up with a plan of action of how to score 2 or more points. Even though you are always considering the shots your opponent will make, you should consider this factor more than you normally do. Since you have a limited amount of stones remaining, you must make each of them help your team score 2 or more points.
Finishing the End - First Outcome
Sometimes, your team may already have 2 or 3 stones in the house that will count for scoring. In this case, it may be best to throw a guard rather than draw into the house. By throwing a guard, you are cutting of paths for your opponent to takeout the counting rocks.
As you can see in the image above, the guard blocks off a path for the opponent to remove and/or freeze to your stones. Thus, your chances of scoring multiple points is high.
Finishing the End - Second Outcome
Other times, your team still may need to throw rocks into the house that can count for scoring and score 2 or more points with the hammer. Therefore, your team needs to throw shots that get stones into the house. If there are opponent's stones around the Button, you can throw a back 12 Foot weight and try to tap them towards the back of the house.
Other times, your opponent may have a few stones behind the tee line that create a makeshift pocket for your to freeze to. This way, you will be guaranteeing that your team will score. Then, on the skip's last shot can be a draw, hit and roll, or other shot that will get your team that second (or maybe third) point to score with the hammer.
Whenever your team has the hammer, try to score 2 or more points. Early in the end, it is okay to replace your corner guards. As the end progresses, begin throwing stones into the house that will directly affect the scoring for the end.