It is now time to begin learning about the various strategies that skips will employ during a game of curling. As we have learned before, curling is a game of strategy and precision. The way teams approach an end depends on which team has the hammer and what the score is. In this chapter, we will explore the various curling strategies that a team can pursue in a given end.
Strategy with Hammer
When a team has the hammer, they are trying to score two points or more. Remember that since your team has the hammer, your team 'controls' the outcome of the end - your opponent has no reactionary shot to the hammer. To setup your team's chances for scoring two or more points, it is best to start by throwing at least one corner guard. This will allow you to draw behind a guard and have a stone eligible for scoring.
It is also important to keep the middle of the sheet open. If your opponent throws a center guard, remove it at the appropriate time (beware of the Five Rock Rule). If your opponent draws in to the house, you can try to throw a takeout or lighter weight hit.
Strategy without Hammer
When a team does not have the hammer, they are trying to force their opponent to score only one point. Note that your team has no reactionary shot to your opponent's final shot. To setup your team's chances for forcing your opponent to score only one point, it is best to start by throwing a center guard. After you throw that, you can draw to the top 4 foot, and be buried behind the center guard.
It is important to keep stones in the middle of the sheet and limit your opponent's access to the button. One of the best defensive shots that can be played is a freeze. If your opponent happens to throw a stone behind the tee line, then freeze to it - your stone will be closer to the button, and your opponent will likely be unable to remove it.
Strategy to Steal
There may be a time near the end of the game that your team is losing by a couple points. In this case, it may be a good idea to try and steal a point or two. Keep in mind that when your team will not have the hammer when trying to steal. The first priority is to get a stone or two into the house, usually near the top 4 foot. With the Five Rock Rule, your team can make a couple draws first, and then throw a guard.
The most important concept to embrace when trying to steal an end is to have a stone close to the 4 foot at all times. This significantly limits your opponent's scoring radius, requires them to make the tough shots, and will help your team be successful in stealing the end .
Blanking an End
There are two scenarios in which it would be a good idea to blank an end (both of which occur when your team has the hammer). The first is that your team would like to retain the hammer for the next end. The second is that your team will likely be unable to score two or more points in the end, and would like to try again in the next end. Regardless of the scenario, your team needs to remove both your stones and your opponent's stones from the house. The best way to do this is by hitting your opponent's stones and then rolling out of the house. If you hit between half and two-thirds of your opponent's stones, your stones will have enough momentum to get out of the house too.
Although negative ice is not a strategy, a skip must heavily consider the ice conditions during the game. In some cases, a team is required to consider using negative ice to their advantage. Negative ice refers to a time in which the normally expected handle will cause the stone to overcurl, as the ice is not perfectly flat. Thus, the thrower must release the stone with the opposite handle to account for the 'angled' ice. Think about it this way: the ice looks like a hill. By releasing your stone so that it tries to travel 'up the hill', the slantedness of the ice will cause the stone to travel straight.
A skip can usually identify warped, or dished, ice rather quickly, but if you can identify it as well, you will understand why your skip is giving you a handle that you wouldn't expect to throw on a particular shot. You also should know how sweeping affects the path that the stone will travel. With negative ice, sweepers must sweep the stone so that it curls, and not sweep so that it remains straight. This is the exact opposite of what sweepers normally do! By knowing how to approach a difficult ice condition, you will be able to help set your team up for success.