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Here’s a puzzle I put to the Daily Curling Puzzle Facebook group a couple of weeks ago, just after Team Mouat of Scotland went on their incredible run of a silver at the men’s worlds and then two Grand Slam victories.

“Well, we might be playing for table scraps here anyways boys. If we manage to win this one, sooner or later we'll have to go up against Team Mouat—and we all know how that’s gonna end! Still, we’d rather beat these other guys, our biggest rivals over the last few years. But how? Here’s the situation:

· 4th end of 10

· We’re red

· We’re down by one

· We have hammer

· It’s our third’s second shot

· Five-foot swing on good ice

C’mon skip, give us a shot that shows that even though we’re not Scottish, we’re still pretty good. What’s your Pro Call and Club Call—and why?”

I should declare a conflict of interest here. I am Canadian but I’ve lived in Scotland for almost 30 years and have played all of my curling over there. I’m lucky in that I get to cheer for both Canada and Scotland, depending of course on who is winning at the time. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of cheering for Scotland.

So what’s the situation here in this game between Team Koe and Team Gushue as they fight it out at this year’s Brier, trying to get the worlds to face Team Mouat? At one-down with hammer and throwing red rocks, Gushue’s probably thinking a deuce or more would be great, a blank not bad, a force okay, but a steal is bad, allowing Team Koe to get a two-shot advantage and start pulling away on the scoreboard.

puzzle 194

And how are the rocks shaping up for him at this late point in the end? Well, as many in our group indicated, it’s not looking great. Koe’s lying two pretty buried in the eight-foot and, more importantly, he’s got that Y2 centre guard just hovering there, ripe for his outturn with his last two stones.

So I guess we could characterize the situation as “not good.” I think we can all agree Team Mouat would never let themselves get into this position!

But what do we do as red—press on the gas, gamble for a deuce with a bunch of yellows in threatening positions? Or play safe and make sure we get our single and stay in the game?

The most popular call in our group was the aggressive tap-and-roll off the side Y4, burying a rock under a whole pile of shrapnel out front, lying shot and gunning for a deuce. It is so tempting to try to get one lodged in there, but I don’t think Gushue even looked at it. And that’s because while a hit-and-roll might work and get to the perfect spot, it’s a very precise shot that probably won’t. At one-down in the fourth end, is this the time to take risks with “might work” shots?

What exactly are the problems with it? First, it could easily roll behind the tee line and Koe would be able to freeze onto it under cover. How do we deal with a frozen rock under cover? Not easily.

Michael Burns-Curling Canada

Michael Burns-Curling Canada

But if Mark Nichols made it good, Koe would have a way to deal with it from either side: a hack-weighter on the central Y2 guard or maybe a shade less weight out wide on the Y3 in the eight-foot. And both calls would leave a yellow central guard hovering above the house (the shooter if he tapped back, or the current guard if he went out wide). When Kevin Koe’s throwing the next two shots, anything that hovers above the house isn’t usually a good idea.

So if not the hit-and-roll under, how about going for a deuce by running back the red guard into the side yellows? While that might work out, he might also leave his shooter in the centre or worse, across the centre line and blocking his outturn to the button. Another “might work” shot.

How about running the yellow centre guard to kill the side yellows? It’s hard to make out in the video, but I think the problem he “figures out for himself” is that even if it’s made, that overlapped R1 guard out front leaves Koe a draw around and Gushue may not be able to deal with it. This one doesn’t even reach the standard of a might-work shot.

As we see in the video, he eventually decides it’s that top Y2 guard and the hooked red R1 that are the main threat to him at least scoring his single. If he tries something else and it doesn’t work and Koe goes around to the four-foot, Gushue’s going to be throwing tricky runbacks for the rest of the end. He decides he needs to play the simple option and clean up the front. Three shots later and Gushue has an easy draw for his single … and the teams move on to play a six-end game.

The one thing I’ve learned after nearly 200 puzzles is that the pros don’t mess around in tight situations with might-work shots. When it’s looking a bit ropey and the tea leaves are running against them, they fold their cards, make the certain shot, clear things up, take their single. That’s what Gushue does here.

So in the group, I like to look for USPs (Universal Skipping Propositions) that I can use as rules-of-thumb when I’m out on the ice. Today’s USP comes courtesy of the curling genius that is Mr. Kenny Rogers:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em

Know when to fold ’em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run...

(The video starts one shot early, to see Kevin Koe work to get that strong position at the top of the rings.)