Masters

So, you’re going to get a rarity: two posts on the same day! This is because I really want to talk about those horror movies that I’ve been watching this week because it aligns nicely with Hallowe’en, but there was curling on over the weekend and I can’t miss an update on that. So, two posts.

This event was the Masters, which is a return to more normal curling play. However, this year they say that they’re going to the five rock rule which is different from what had been played before. Essentially, rocks out front of the house — commonly called guards — can’t be removed until five rocks have been thrown, whereas before that could happen after four rocks have been thrown. What it really means is that the team that holds hammer — throws the last rock in an end — now can set up two guards that can’t be removed immediately, and so can force the team without hammer to do something other than simply peeling guards away on their third shot. This should result in more rocks in play, or more risky tick shots — moving the guard out of the way without removing it — that can fail and so leave more options for the team with hammer. It’s basically a limitation on defensive play and was touted as being a way to allow for more comebacks, which got be grumbling because on the Grand Slam Tour the biggest thing preventing comebacks is that they play two less ends, and so if you get down at about the fourth or fifth end it’s almost impossible to come back because you have to go for drastic measures to score rather than being able to nibble away at the lead like you see in the international game, which goes to ten ends.

And, of course, soon after Nina Roth made a comeback from being down 7 – 3 to Jennifer Jones to win that game.

The move did seem to increase scoring. Or, at least, there was a lot of scoring happening. But a lot of the time the big scores happened because one of the teams made an egregious error. In general, they weren’t forced into trying a risky shot and missed by inches leaving them in a bad spot, but instead made completely unforced errors on shots that we would expect curlers at that level to make almost all of the time. Even in the finals, the key shot was Rachel Homan clanking a guard that she should have been able to get by, leaving an easy hit for Anna Hasselborg to score three points. And Hasselborg herself had her team miss two shots because they picked up some debris or frost, lost the handle, and just died (although those misses weren’t as dramatic). Far too often, the key shots were egregious misses which resulted in big ends. But it’s not fun to watch egregious misses cost games. It’s fun to watch curlers have to make incredibly precise shots, and if they miss those shots have the other team take advantage. Forcing a team to make an almost impossible shot is fun even if they miss it (Hasselborg, I think, was forced into one of these in the final and missed it giving Homan multiple points). Having a team fumble away multiple points is more frustrating than entertaining.

And that leads me to comment on something that I’m noticing in curling mostly but also in other sports: the push for more scoring. More scoring isn’t always better and doesn’t always make for a better game. First, if more scoring happens because you take away tactical concerns — ie the planning and set-up that is normally required in curling — then curling loses one of the things that makes it uniquely interesting, in my opinion. Second, if more scoring becomes expected — in curling, threes become common — then it becomes commonplace, and no longer special. We no longer ooh and aah over a shot for three because we’ve already seen two of those in the game and it seems like it happens in every game we watch. What curling should really want is for it to be the case that big ends are possible, but not frequent, so that the team still really has to make great shots to do so. So far, I’ve seen it be a bit too easy to score big ends, especially considering the big misses that also seem commonplace on tour.

The semi-finals were interesting for me, since they featured Homan vs Chelsea Carey and Hasselborg vs Casey Scheidegger. I mused about whether I’d like to see a match where I liked both teams or where I only really liked one of them. Since I don’t care much about Hasselborg at all — I don’t dislike the team but she tends to beat teams I like better — or Carey — now that she no longer has Cathy Overton-Clapham on her team — it ended up with the latter which made it easy for me to decide who to cheer for, but I think I prefer watching two teams that I want to watch than having it be easier to figure out who to cheer for.

And, of course, Hasselborg beat a team I liked again, winning 8 – 7 with that three in the 8th on that missed shot from Homan. Hasselborg has now won the first two Grand Slam titles on the women’s side.

Next up is the Tour Challenge next week.

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