About the Game
Curling is a seemingly simple sport: two teams, each with four players, slide stones down a curling sheet to a target at the other end; sweepers help the rocks on their way; and the team with the most stones closer to the center of the target than the other team wins. It's a sport that emphasizes strategy, communication, and good sportsmanship. It's a game that people of all ages and physical abilities can play. It's a game that everyone in Central New York can play!
World Curling Federation and U.S. Curling Association rules are published annually, and are the official governing documents for men's, women's, and mixed play. An abbreviated version of U.S. Curling Association rules (Club Rules) is also available.
How the Game is Played
A curling team consists of four players: lead, second, vice-skip (or third), and skip (team captain). Each member of the team delivers (throws) two rocks each, alternating delivery with players on the opposing team. As each person throws a rock, two other team members may sweep (brush) in front of the rock. Sweeping a rock will make it travel a farther distance and on a straighter line. The sweepers are in charge of determining if brushing is needed for weight (distance). The skip calls the shots, using a broom as a target for his/her teammates, and is in charge of calling sweeping for line (direction). When the skip throws, the vice holds the broom and is in charge of line calls. Communication between the sweepers and the person calling line is vital - how hard a rock is thrown (weight) affects how much the rock will curl (curve).
All curling games begin and end with hand-shakes among all the participants. A game is divided into ends, either 6 ends (social games), 8 ends (recreational leagues), or 10 ends (high level competition). An end consists of each member of both teams throwing two stones, alternating delivery between teams. After the first end, the team that throws the first rock is the team that scored in the previous end (the first end is determined by a coin toss or other method). Throwing the last rock in an end, also called having the hammer, is advantageous. After all 16 rocks have been delivered, the vice-skips agree on the score for the end (see below). At the end of a game, if the score is tied, extra end(s) are played to determine the winner. In some competitions, games are timed and varies with the competition. At the club level, a game often must be played within a specific time period - the game is time, but not the teams. At high level competitions, each team is timed separately, like chess matches. Most commonly, it is time taken between each shot for strategy discussions. Some elite events have experimented with timing each end, allotting different times per end during the first and second half of play. In high level competitions, teams are allotted 2 time-outs, and a break is taken after the fifth end.
Curlers throw two basic types of shots: draws and hits. Hits move other rock(s), and draws do not. There are a variety of the two basic shots. Draws typically guard other rocks, hide behind other rocks, or freeze to other rocks. Hits may remove a rock from play (take-out), either going out of play itself (peel) or staying in play (hit and stick; hit and roll); or they may simply move a rock a few inches or few feet (tap).
Only rocks in the house may score. A rock is in the house if any part of it, when viewed from directly above the rock, is touching the house. All rocks from one team closer to the button than any opponents rocks score 1 point each. It is possible to blank an end, i.e. neither team scores a point. Perhaps the most exciting (and rare) score in curling is an eight-ender, in which all eight of a team's rocks count.
Scores are hung on a scoreboard, of which there are two types. In curling clubs, the permanent numbers on the scoreboard (the bold numbers in the example below) indicate the cumulative score, and the vice hangs a number card representing the end in which that cumulative score was achieved. In the example below, Team 2 defeated Team 1 by a score of 7-6, scoring 2 in the 1st end, 3 in the 5th end, and 2 in the 8th end. Team 1 scored 2 in the 2nd end to tie the game, stole single points in the 3rd and 4th two ends, and scored 2 in the 6th end. The 7th end was blanked.
On television, it is not unusual to see "baseball-type" scoreboards that are the opposite of the above: the permanent numbers are the ends of play, and the numbers hung represent the score tallied in that end. In this type of scoreboard, a cumulative score may be placed on the right.
Curling is unusual in that a team can concede a game. Typically this happens in the last end whenever a team no longer has enough rocks left that might score to tie the game. It may also happen the team believes that it is highly improbable to win, even if numerically possible. There are instances, for example in a "point spiel," in which a team may not concede the game.
Our Instruction page has more information on how to deliver a stone and basic strategy.
A curling sheet of ice is approximately 150 feet long and 15 feet wide, the surface of which is kept near 24º F. The surface is prepared for each game by sprinkling water droplets onto the ice (known as pebbling).
At each end of the ice, is a target, called the house, made up of concentric circles, 12 feet, 8 feet, and 4 feet in diameter. The center of the house (typically 1 foot wide) is known as the button.
Running along the length of the sheet are the side lines (which mark the sheet boundaries), the center line, and in many clubs, two lines that are 2 feet to either side of the center lines - the 4-foot lines. Running across the sheet are the tee lines (through the center of the button), the back lines (6 feet behind the tee line, tangent to the back of the houses), the hog lines (21 feet in front of the tee line). When delivering a rock, a curler must let go of the stone before crossing the near hog line, and the rock must completely cross the far hog line before coming to a stop. Rocks that do not completely cross the far hog line, or that completely cross the far back line are removed from play.
Six feet behind the back line of each house are the hacks, a toehold which curlers use as a sprinters would use a starting block.
Ice varies from facility to facility, from sheet to sheet in the same facility, and on a sheet as a game progresses. On fast ice, a rock will travel farther with the same effort than it will on slow ice. Temperature and pebble affect not only the speed of the ice, but how much a rock will curl. During the game, areas of a sheet on which many rocks have traveled will be faster than areas that have not been played on. Reading the ice is the responsibility of all players. Knowing how hard to throw a rock or how much ice to give for a shot, depends upon the players noticing and remembering how the ice behaves.
Curling rocks (or stones) are made of granite, mostly from Scotland or Wales, and weigh between 38 and 44 pounds. They are about 6 inches tall and 11 inches in diameter. Very little of the rock actually touches the ice. The bottom of a rock has a cavity about 6 inches wide. Rocks slide on the outside edge of that cavity, known as the running surface. Modern stones have plastic handles that are bolted to the rock. Special handles with built-in hog line sensors are used in high level competitions to determine if a curler has released the rock before the near hog line.
Rocks curl (curve) because of a combination of factors, and articles in scientific journals debate the physics of curling rocks. Whatever the ultimate reason(s), rocks do curl (travel across the sheet) as much as 4 feet from release to stop on well prepared ice. The direction of curl is always opposite the direction of the trailing edge of the rock: that is, a rock rotating clockwise will curl from left to right, and a rock rotating counterclockwise will curl from right to left. The skip will estimate the amount of curl expected for a particular shot and adjust his/her target placement accordingly. Anticipating this curl (reading the ice) is perhaps the most important part of the game, especially so at high levels of competition.
Curling brooms are used for two purposes: for sweeping and as a stabilizing device when delivering the rock. Brooms used for sweeping are made of either hair or a synthetic pad. Occasionally you will still see curlers use corn brooms during delivery. Other stabilizing devices are becoming popular, especially for new curlers.
Considerable scientific study has been devoted to understanding the effecgts of sweeping. Sweeping transiently and slightly decreases the friction of the ice surface, allowing a moving rock to retain its speed longer and reducing the ability of the stone to dig in and curl. So sweeping makes the rock travel farther (not faster!) and "straighter" (it will continue more in the direction in which it is already traveling). With the right brushing materials and correct technique, it is also possible to control the stone to make it curl more or less by using "directional" sweeping. This effect is minimized at the pro level by the use of special, standardized brushing materials.
Curlers wear specially designed shoes. The sole of one foot has a layer of Teflon (or metal or brick) which enables the curler to slide when delivering the stone. The sole of the foot placed in the hack is made of rubber which provides traction on the ice. When sweeping, many curlers place a gripper over their slide foot to provide additional traction. Right-handed curlers slide on their left foot; left-handed curlers on their right foot.