Curling is still one of the hottest sports at the Winter Olympics. After all, any game in which players yelp and yell “Sweep! Sweepis sure to capture the attention of viewers. But if you find this Olympic ice sport equally fascinating and confusing, you’re not alone: curling isn’t something most people have learned to practice in gym class. If you want to know more about the game than the lingo you’ve learned from announcers (what’s a “hammer”, anyway?), we’ve got you covered. Here is a brief overview of how curling is played and how the scoring system works.
Rules of curling: how does the game work?
Curling may seem complicated to a casual spectator, but the rules laid down by the World Curling Federation are actually quite simple. Teams try to slide heavy, polished granite boulders (called “stones” in curling parlance) across a sheet of ice toward “home”: an area of ice marked with a circular target. Points are awarded based on the distance between the stone and the center of the house, also known as the “button”. However, there is a catch: two teams of four play on the same rink at the same time, alternating throws. This means that part of the game of curling is trying to push the other team’s rocks further away or prevent them from having a good shot.
Curling requires a lot of precision and strategy. Teams try to land their own throws as close as possible, but they can also aim to knock their opponents’ rocks out of the house, preventing them from being tagged. Each member of a team pitches twice in an innings, including the “skip”, or team captain, who determines the overall strategy. When not throwing, everyone but the captain is in charge of sweeping, which is probably the sport’s most iconic image. Players run past the stone and polish the ice with brooms to reduce friction and make the stone slide more easily. Swiping is also very strategic, as it can be used to speed up stones that are moving too slowly or to adjust the trajectory of those that curve in the wrong direction. However, sweeping past a stone that is already going too fast can cause it to overshoot the house.
Curling scoring: how are points awarded?
Scoring takes place after each “end” or after each team has delivered eight stones. First, teams must determine who got a stone closest to the button. Officials may need to use specialized sensors to make this decision, especially in elite competitions where the differences may not be obvious to the naked eye. The winning team receives one point for winning, and then additional points – one per stone – for each of their remaining stones that are closer to the button than their opponents’ nearest stone. Only stones that have landed somewhere in the house (and stayed there without being knocked out by a subsequent throw) can count for the score. The team that does not score gets the “hammer”, or last throwing advantage in the next round.
Curling matches are usually 10 innings and at the end of the match the team with the most points wins. Concessions are also a fairly common part of curling, especially later in the game. The final round also does not need to be completed for victory to be declared; if a team has fewer stones to throw than points to catch, the game can end immediately. It is also possible for a round to be completed without anyone scoring, if there are no stones left in the house at that time. In this case, no one gets any points for that ending and the game continues.
At the Olympics, every curling tournament begins with a round robin, where each team plays every other team. The top four teams qualify for the semi-finals. After these games, the two winning teams advance to the gold medal game and play for the gold and silver medals, while the two losing teams have a final game to determine the bronze medal.