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Beginner’s guide to the rules of Olympic curling

So, you’re watching curling during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and you’re wondering what’s going on?

We don’t judge and were once like you. Our “Explain Like I’m Five” style primer will give you a basic overview of the rules.

Throwing rocks at houses

A curling ice sheet is roughly 146 feet long by 15 feet, seven inches wide; about the length of a hockey rink with some room to spare.

There are two houses — 12-foot bullseyes with a centre known as the button — located at opposite ends of the sheet. Teams aim for one house one way during the odd-numbered ends and the other for the even-numbered ends.

Teams have eight rocks per end and take turns delivering their rocks until all have been thrown. Rocks are removed from play by either touching the side boards or crossing the back line behind the house.

The main goal in curling is to score more rocks closer to the centre of the button than your opponent’s nearest stone.

Only one team can score per end and each rock is worth one point, so the maximum points a team can score in a period of play is eight.

How many players are on each team?

Each team on the ice includes four players: lead, second, third and skip.

Teams are typically named after the skip, e.g. Team Koe, Team Gushue, Team Homan.

Sometimes the skip will throw from a different order — Switzerland’s skip Peter de Cruz throws second — but for the most part the skip is the fourth thrower.

“Captain” who calls the shots.
Throws the seventh & eighth stones.
AKA vice skip.
Sweeps the first four stones.
Throws the fifth & sixth stones.
In the house during the skip’s stones.
Sweeps the first two stones.
Throws the third & fourth stones.
Sweeps the final four stones.
Throws the first & second stones.
Sweeps the following six stones.

How many ends are there?

Olympic curling games are played to 10 ends, which are similar to innings or periods in other sports.

Not all games are played to the limit. Sometimes teams will concede early by shaking hands if they don’t think they’ll be able to mount a late comeback.

If a game is tied after 10 ends, an extra end is played.

What’s the hammer?

The hammer means you get to throw last in the end.

Teams finish off their practice with a draw-to-the-button shootout. The team that is closer to the centre of the button, the pin, begins the game with the hammer.

What if the team without the hammer has the closest rock?

This is called a steal and the team without the hammer scores those points.

The maximum number of points a team can steal per end is eight.

When a steal happens, the team that has the hammer keeps it for the following end since they did not score.

What happens if there are no rocks in the house when an end is complete?

The end is considered a blank. No points are awarded and the team that has the hammer keeps it for the next end.

Why would a team want to blank an end instead of scoring one?

Scoring one point is not desirable. Ideally, you’d like to score two or more. That’s why when teams score a single point it’s really the other team has forced them to one so that the hammer switches sides.

Why doesn’t the team with the hammer just knock out all the other team’s stones every end and then score one in the 10th?

Ah, now you’re thinking like they did in the 1980s. That was the strategy employed back in the day and made for some uninteresting and predictable curling games.

Things changed in the 1990s with the free-guard zone and the four-rock rule. The free-guard zone is the arena outside the house from the tee line (the horizontal line cutting through the middle of the house) up to the nearest hog line (the horizontal line where rocks must cross in order to stay in play).

Stones sitting in this area are called guards and cannot be removed from play until four stones have been thrown (aka the four-rock rule). This allows teams to place guards and then draw around them with their following stones so that they’re harder to eliminate.

The fifth rock of play is the first one that can eliminate guards.

There are still ways around it as teams can tick guards — but not eliminate them — so that they’re less troublesome.

What happens if a team eliminates a guard before the fifth stone of play?

The guard returns to its original resting position while the shooter is removed from play.

Usually, the guard leaves a bit of an imprint on the ice so teams know where to put it back although when it looks like it’s heading to the side boards, teams will keep an eye on where it was before.

What are the hog lines?

The hog lines determine if a rock is considered in play. While sliding, the shooter must release the rock before it crosses the first hog line and the rock must cross the second hog line to remain in play.

What happens if the thrower releases the rock too late or it doesn’t cross the other hog line?

The rock is considered “burned” and is removed from play.

What’s a burned rock?

On top of the aforementioned hog line violation, a rock can be burned if it’s touched by one of the sweepers. If this occurs prior to the second hog line, it is up to the offending team to remove the rock from play. However, should this occur after crossing the second hog line, the non-offending team can decide if the rock should be removed or not. This falls under the “spirit of curling” ethos of the game where players have a say in the rules over officials.

Is the ice different from hockey? How do the rocks curl?

Ice makers sprinkle the surface prior to the start of games to created pebbles, which create more friction between the stone and the ice and help the stones curl.

How much does a curling stone weigh?

A curling stone weighs around 42 lbs.

What are some different types of shots?

Draw: A rock thrown with the intention of finishing at a specific spot on the ice.

Hit: A rock thrown with the intention of making contact with another stone.

Runback/raise takeout: Hitting a rock higher up on the sheet to promote it or have it make contact with another stone.

Come-around shot: Making a stone curl around another rock.

Tick shot: When the four-rock rule is in play, this shot is used to nudge a guard out of the way but keep it in play.

Peel: Hitting a stone to remove both it and the shooter from play.

Nose: Hitting another stone right on top so the shooter doesn’t roll out. Sometimes this is done by accident when a team is looking to peel but hits the opposing stone at the wrong spot.

Freeze: Drawing on top of a stone and making the shooter difficult to eliminate from play.

Split: A precise shot where the shooter looks to hit a guard promoting both it and their thrown stone into the house so they both count as points. Not to be confused with “splitting the house” or “splitting the rings” where teams attempt to place rocks at opposite sides making it harder for their opponent to remove both.

Wreck: When a stone accidentally makes contact with another stationary stone the thrower was hoping to avoid.

Jam: Attempting to take out a rock but it makes contact with another stone and it stops to stay in play.

Flash: A rock that is thrown through the house; either a draw that is heavy or a hit attempt that goes untouched.

Why are they sweeping the ice?

The curling brush consists of a fibreglass or carbon fibre shaft with a fabric head used in a sweeping motion perpendicular to the path of the rock to clear debris from the ice and help maintain the trajectory of the stone.

Rocks are sensitive to the ice conditions and can pick up debris from the ice — known as a pick — which can veer the rock off course.

What are they yelling?

Although “hurry hard” has become the cliche curling expression, you’ll probably never actually hear it said during a game these days.

Rather, here are some common curling phrases you’re more likely to hear.

“Hard,” “hard line,” or “go”: Sweep harder to maintain the current path.

“Clean”: Sweep lightly to ensure the line is maintained.

“Whoa,” “Never,” or “Off”: Stop sweeping, usually because the rock was misfired and is heading off course.

“Looks heavy”: The stone has been thrown too hard and has a chance of sliding beyond the intended target. Sweepers will ease up with the hope the rock will lose speed.

“Looks light”: A stone hasn’t been thrown hard enough with the chance it comes up short. Sweepers will brush harder to attempt to drag the rock to the desired point.

Can teams take as long as they want to throw a rock?

No. In Olympic curling each team has 38 minutes of “thinking time” per game which is indicated on a timer at the end of the sheet. The clock ticks down while the team is deciding which shot to make.

What happens if a team runs out their clock?

The team cannot throw any more rocks for the remainder of the 10-end game.

Do curlers play year-round?

Yes, they do. The World Curling Tour features tournaments all over the globe and runs roughly from August to the end of April. Teams earn points toward a ranking system.

The premier events are the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments, which feature the top teams based on the World Curling Tour rankings. Click here for the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling schedule with tournaments coming up in Winnipeg, Toronto and Calgary.

The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling is televised on Sportsnet in Canada. Fans can watch online by subscribing to Sportsnet NOW (Canada) or (international).

Curling is considered a semi-professional sport with most curlers holding down full-time careers elsewhere. The best teams manage to juggle a job, working out at the gym, family time and being away for over a dozen or more weeks while on tour.

Are they just wearing running shoes?

Yes and no. While it may appear some curlers are wearing normal pairs of kicks, they also wear different soles on their shoes: one for their sliding foot and a gripping sole on the other.

What’s with the funny pants?

You must be talking about Norway’s Team Thomas Ulsrud. They started wearing them during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver to stand out from the crowd. Clearly, it has worked.

The pants are from Loudmouth and golfer John Daly also wears them on the PGA Tour.


Who are some teams I should know?

Team Kevin Koe
Calgary-based Kevin Koe captured Canadian and world men’s championships in 2016.
Lead Ben Hebert and third Marc Kennedy won the Olympic gold medal in 2010.
They represented Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Team Niklas Edin

Team Niklas Edin
Sweden’s Niklas Edin is a two-time world men’s champion and 2018 Olympic silver medallist.
The team won three Grand Slam of Curling tournaments in 2016-17.
Edin maded a third Olympic appearance in 2018 and carried the flag for Sweden in the opening ceremony.
Team John Shuster
John Shuster, who plays out of Duluth, Minn., represented the U.S. for a fourth consecutive time at the Winter Olympics.
He pulled off the “Miracurl on Ice” stunning favourites Canada and Sweden in the playoffs to win the 2018 Olympic gold medal.
Shuster is also a five-time U.S. champion and claimed bronze at the worlds in 2016.
Team Rachel Homan
Team Rachel Homan
Homan is the reigning world women’s champion and has won six titles in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.
Her Ottawa-based team made history becoming the first women’s team to compete in a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s tournament (the 2016 Elite 10) and defeat a high-ranked men’s team since Sportsnet acquired the series in 2012.
Homan represented Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Team Eve Muirhead
Scotland’s Eve Muirhead is a four-time Grand Slam of Curling title winner.
Muirhead represented Great Britain at a third consecutive Winter Olympics and won bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games.
She made history as the youngest skip to capture the world women’s championship at age 22 in 2013.
Team Nina Roth
Team Roth, based in Blaine, Minn., played for the U.S. at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Lead Becca Hamilton also competed in the Olympic mixed doubles competition with her brother, Matt Hamilton, from Team Shuster.
Roth won the U.S. championship in 2010 and 2014.