What's the Best Strategy?
By far the most common question I get asked by new curlers, and even some of our more experienced curlers is "Whats the best strategy here". Strategy is complex, and that is often a very difficult question to answer because of the ice conditions we play on. Traditional strategies of play to the outside with the hammer and play the middle without the hammer don't work when there is a big ridge down the middle that allows anyone to hit anything, or a fall in the wings that means you can't play the 12 ft. or 8 ft. rings. This causes skips to think sometimes a little too far outside the box, and often leads to a focus on scoring regardless of whether they have the hammer or not, and this is where skips (including myself) get into trouble.
We often forget the basis of any strategy in curling. If you have the hammer you want to score 2, and if you don't have the hammer you want to force your opponent to score one. This strategy often takes you away from the button without the hammer and makes you think about how you can out count other stones in the house, leaving your skip the role of locking your opponent to 1 with their two stones. Confidence your ability to throw your shots, and your team to throw their role in the game, and the discipline to not veer from their role in an effort to score when you don't have to is a high risk high reward strategy and often doesn't pay off, particularly when you are playing a disciplined team who isn't working to take your hammer advantage away. With the hammer, play still stays away from the button, but only to a certain point. You see, the center is important with the hammer, its important that it's clear, and always better to have your stone on the center line than your opponents. Remember your goal here is to score two. While your opponent focuses on putting stones right on the lid, your game needs to start away from the button, and end focusing on getting to the button.
Mathematically if you follow this strategy you will never lose. Scoring 2 when you have the hammer and forcing your opponent to 1 when you don't have the hammer always results in a win. Even when you account for the fact that you won't always accomplish your goal, just accomplishing half of your goal here still sets you up well. If you force every end you don't have the hammer, you only have to score one deuce to win the game. So next time you are out on the ice, simplify your strategy and go back to basics. See if you can implement this in your next game.