February 18, 2010

HAMMER AND ICICLE:

Curling Strategy, by the Numbers (Mark McClusky, February 18, 2010 , Wired)

One of the key strategic elements in curling is which team has the hammer — the curling term for the last rock in an end. It’s obviously an advantage, but how much? And how important is it? Again, math to the rescue. My new favorite website, Curl With Math, has collected data on years’ worth of elite curling matches and broken down the winning percentage of teams in all sorts of score situations.

A curling game has 10 ends (like innings, a complete set of stones for each team). At the start of the game, with a tie score, the team with the hammer has about a 60 percent chance to win the game — that is, the hammer gives them about a 10 percent edge. Significant, but not huge.

It’s more interesting to look at decisions during the game. Often, teams with the hammer will chose to blank an end, knocking out the rocks so that no one scores, and so they can keep the hammer. That is, they choose keeping the hammer over scoring 1 point. Does that make sense?

Well, here are the numbers for a game that’s tied when the skip has to make the decision. The decimals in the chart are the winning percentages of teams in the various positions, i.e., if you’re tied with the hammer with 7 ends remaining, you win 60.7 percent of the time.


The only watchable Winter Olympic sport.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 18, 2010 8:30 PM
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