In Puzzle #84 of my Daily Curling Puzzle Facebook group, I put this conundrum to our Puzzlers: 

Two heavyweight teams battling it out here. For whatever reason, one team plays a lot in the centre, while the other now throws 75% on the left. No matter. This was always going to be a tough game, and early indications are this is going right to the wire. Here's the situation:

  • Third end of 10
  • We’re yellow
  • We’re up by one
  • We have hammer
  • It’s our second’s second shot
  • Normal championship ice, about five feet of swing 

C’mon skip—let’s make a shot that forces them into an uncomfortable place. What’s your call, and why?

Puzzle Column - 11th Feb

The most popular call from our Puzzlers by a wide margin was the double peel. You’ve got hammer, they’ve got rocks buried in the centre behind staggered guards, why not get rid of the shrapnel out in front? Our ‘Comment of the Day’ went to Puzzler Mike Dietz, who asked “This seems like a trick question, why wouldn’t you want to double peel the red guards?” Great question, Mike. 

I threw in this situation because in so many of our puzzles, the preferred option has been to clear the guards. And as I reveal the day after the puzzle, that’s exactly what Kerri Einarson of Manitoba (the team in our preamble who “plays in the centre”) asks Shannon Birchard to throw against Rachel Homan and Team Ontario (which now has three members or ‘75% playing on the left’ in Alberta.)

But as the commentators—and some Puzzlers—point out, there is another good option in this situation, the bump on Red 3 (R3) to remove R4 and lie three-versus-one. So to Mike’s question, why not peel, I think there’s three reasons which may lead you to play something else.

First, the game situation. It’s an early end and you’re one up. Many of our peel-the-guard puzzles have been in the final ends in tight games, where a risk that doesn’t pay off might leave you absolutely scuppered. In this case, it’s the third end and you're one up and you have hammer, so any steal should hopefully be limited to a single to leave you tied with hammer in even ends. Is this time to take a risk? Maybe.

Curling Canada YouTube

Curling Canada YouTube

The second factor is the end situation. Puzzler and third for Team Shannon Kleibrink (and top coach) Allison Earl said it best: “I like the double peel call and it is still there, but I like playing the bump on R3 to remove R4 first as I have dealt with the rock that has a piece of the button and I am making them think about all my yellow rocks ... pressure!”

So this is a chance to outnumber them three-versus-one and create some backing for the one you’re about to throw. Any loose shot by red from here on in would bring all those other yellows into play and make them sweat a bit. As Allison says “I love applying PRESSURE!”

The final reason why this might be a good time to leave the guards and chase is the point Russ Howard and Cheryl Bernard make in the commentary booth. You have a chance to deal with that shot rock now. But if you peel the guards and they put on a better one—which is what happens—then you have to make some great shots down the stretch to hang in in this end—which is also what happens! Team Ontario sticks on a great guard and Val Sweeting has to perform a flawless runback to deal with those shot rocks. The pressure here now sits on yellow, not red, to make great shots.

And the rest of the end plays out with red applying pressure, right up until Rachel Homan’s first, which is a bit loose. Kerri Einarson’s team is on fire, pounces on it and cleans up for three.

As a side point, the commentators do point out that one factor influencing Kerri’s double peel call is that it’s Shannon Birchard (and her death-defying release) who is delivering it. It’s Shannon’s type of shot, and the player calls for it, a factor that shouldn’t be dismissed easily by any skip.

Anyway, that’s my best shot at addressing Mike’s question about why not the double peel in an end like this. My takeaway in my never-ending quest to figure out the art of skipping: Context is everything. Early on, one-up with last rock, opportunity to isolate just one of theirs versus three of ours? Maybe it’s time to leave the guards and turn the screws a bit.