The strategy/tactics answer – asking the right questions

No single thing inspires more debate in curling lounges all across this land than STRATEGY!

We know that games are won – and lost – on our good and not-so-good decisions. We also know that execution and tactics play a significant role in all strategy on the frozen sheet. But how often do we stop and ask ourselves if are we asking the right questions when it comes to our strategic maneuvers? We know from High Performance camps and clinics that the risk-reward should factor into all our decisions. We also know that proper decision-making cannot be executed without a working knowledge of our former strategy bible: FESRAIN. But if we are going to use this tool to its fullest extent, some important and proper questions must be asked. FESRAIN: the Free guard zone, End, Score, last Rock advantage, team Ability, Ice conditions and Number of rocks remaining are all considerations for the execution of our end plan. My good friend and strategy guru, Rob Krepps, uses the acronym “TOP” to simplify this formula.

TOP is short for Team Performance – Opposition Tendencies – Playing Conditions. These three factors determine our options: (1) score points with hammer; (2) limit the opposition to 1 point in the ends without hammer; (3) always leave your skip with a good last shot to score; (4) leave the skip with multiple good options to score. These are the strategy basics and we must ask ourselves: how do we go about accomplishing these options? Since this is an article about questions, that seems like a good spot to start.

Question #1: What is our end plan? What do we want to accomplish? What is acceptable? What is not acceptable? How will we accomplish our goal (for example, of scoring two points with hammer)? All of these are good starting points to making sound decisions that will lead to success.

Question #2: Now that we’re into the end: if they make this shot – what will we do? In club curling, we make the mistake too often of playing for our opposition to make a mistake, and base our strategy on this fallacy. We stand with our toes and fingers crossed and hope the wheels fall off our opponent’s aspirations. Instead, we should take a lesson from a wise 19-year-old, who back in 2003 demonstrated to a national TV audience the right way to roll. Marliese Miller (now Kasner) was the Canadian Junior women’s champion that year and she was playing the defending World Junior champ, Cassie Johnson of the United States, in the final. The score was tied in the 10th end, Miller and her Saskatchewan foursome had hammer, and was sitting buried behind multiple guards in the four foot. Johnson called – and made – an 18-foot angle raise take-out to sit two with her final stone. Miller stoically called a hack-weight double to win the game and the World Championship. All this was exciting and dramatic and displayed for the world the incredible skill of these two young ladies.

However, the most important moment was still to come and is the reason I am recounting this story. When interviewed by Don Whitman after the game, Miller was asked this insightful question: “What were you thinking when Johnson made that amazing 18-footer?” Marliese looked at her inquisitor and replied, “I thought when she makes this, I’m going to make this!” And she did!

Question #3: When things go wrong during the end as they are sometimes apt to do – when is the right time to bail and change our end plan? Well, the answer to that lies in these two insightful little charts, provided as a valuable resource by Rob Krepps, the “strategy doctor”:

Continuing the End: Without Last Rock
Nature of House Setup Protecting strategy Probing (-) Strategy Probing (+) Strategy Pursuing Strategy
Positive or Neutral Keep Focus – hold to 1 Hold to 1 / Steal 1 Steal 1 / Hold to 1 Maximum pressure: steal 1 plus
Negative bail point: N/A bail point: 2nd’s
first
bail point: 2nd’s second bail point: 3rd’s
first
Continuing the End: With Last Rock
Nature of House Setup Protecting strategy Probing (-) Strategy Probing (+) Strategy Pursuing Strategy
Positive or Neutral Keep Focus – blank the end Score 2 / blank end Score 2 / Score 1 Maximum pressure: score 2 plus
Negative bail point: N/A bail point: 2nd’s
first
bail point: 2nd’s second bail point: 3rd’s
first

Question #4: Where is the break point in the sheet of ice you are playing? Now you may be thinking this is a strange question to pose in an article on strategy, but think about it. Ice or playing conditions are an integral part of strategy or tactics in curling. Hence, the “P” in the TOP variables. You must always build your game around what the ice will give you. Late break, early, or no-break ice plays very differently and will sometimes not allow certain types of shots to be played.

Finally, I’m not so sure about the old adage that there are no bad questions, but I’m certain that there are many poorly thought out and inadequately-phrased questions. These misguided ideas lead to disarray and often confusion in the house. Usually, in crucial situations that spells disaster.

Let me give you an example: last end, score tied; your opponent has hammer. What happens when these questions are posed: Why not go in now with the vice rock and put on some pressure?

Let’s imagine we are playing a world-class team, a team that plays the “Perfect Game” and doesn’t miss a shot. That happens and we must build our game plan around that information. So we keep placing stones up front, and the Perfect team keeps peeling those guards. The situation is established.

We have established in our end plan that patience is a virtue in this situation, and stupidity is winning out over patience. We should be asking these two questions: If we go in now, what message are we sending to our opponents? What are the consequences of our actions?

You are sending a distress signal, for sure. As a player or a coach, if I saw that third’s stone coming into the house, the message would be loud and clear: “skippy” is afraid to throw the last shot. Everything is predicated on setting up for the final shot. Also think of all the things that might work against you: the draw goes behind the T-line, the stone ticks a guard and opens things up, etc. NOT WORTH IT! Check out the diagrammed play of this end (at left) and think again. If you want the right answer, you need to ask the right question.

1 Comment

  • Dunno … if the other team makes everything you will lose no matter what you play. How might you influence the other team to make a half shot? Have there been any hints during the game of something not working perfectly? Does the opponent third and skip have any known tendencies of what they may miss or prefer to avoid?

    Jean Lesperance 27.08.2017

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.