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Miskew: 5-rock rule strategy guide

By Emma Miskew

After just finishing our third Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling (GSOC) event of the season, we’ve now had a few opportunities to play with the five-rock rule, which was implemented a couple of years ago.

For the majority of my curling career, we’ve been using the four-rock rule, which simply means you cannot remove a rock from the free guard zone for the first four rocks of the game. This was easy to remember as it was just the lead players on both teams who could not remove a guard from play, but peeling away guards was allowed by the seconds on both teams.

What started happening was that teams were getting too good at peeling guards, and if they had any bit of a lead in the scoring, it was really hard for the other team to catch up. In order to make the game more interesting, the GSOC implemented a five-rock rule, so that the second on the team without hammer was no longer able to remove a guard from play on his/her first shot.

While this may not sound like a huge difference — only ONE extra rock that cannot be removed from play — it’s an entirely different strategy. The team with hammer who is trying to even the game in points has the ability to throw two guards and the team without hammer can’t remove either of them until after the fifth rock has been thrown by the second. This really changes the strategy for the team without hammer because they have to decide what to do with three rocks before they can start going on the defence.

We’ve experimented with a few different game strategies, and overall, we find the five-rock rule to be super interesting.

We won a game last year, three points down coming home, by taking four points, which would be almost impossible with the four-rock rule.

Even with a lead in scoring, you never feel completely safe with the five-rock rule. Instead of relying on solid hitting, we’re forced to throw guards and play finesse shots, which leaves lots of rocks around for the other team to use.

One situation with the five-rock rule that requires some strategy re-thinking is when we are going into the seventh end, up one point with hammer. With this rule, giving up two points often happens and giving up three points is possible if you miss one shot. Therefore, getting forced to one point in the seventh end isn’t an ideal situation for a team if they want to feel in control when heading into the eighth end.

We played a seventh end last year where we tried a hard shot to blank the end instead of an easy shot for a point because we were up by only one point at the time. We preferred being tied going into the eighth end with hammer (if we were to miss and give up a steal of one) rather than two points up without. That’s a decision we would never have made with the four-rock rule, where being up by two points is usually considered a control situation.

It’s also hard to decide exactly where to put the three rocks of the game when you can’t remove the guards from play with the second’s first stone. Most teams usually place the first rock top four, second rock top eight, and then throw a tight guard. The team with hammer who is down in points needs to make a play on those rocks, and if successful, may set up their team for a potential big score. This makes the second’s shots all the more important.

Overall, the five-rock rule has added elements of both discomfort and interest to the game we all knew so well, and we absolutely love it.

So far, only the GSOC has implemented the new five-rock rule into their events. The other events, including all Curling Canada and World Curling Federation competitions, still use the four-rock rule.

Given how successful the five-rock rule has become in forcing teams to play with lots of rocks around, the implementation of this new strategy after the next Olympics at the Canadian and world levels could be a possibility. I think most players would be on board with the change, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens!