Curling Basics

New to curling? The following sections contain information that will help you get started. It is intended to serve as a high-level introduction to some basics of curling and how it is played. This is not a comprehensive discussion of rules or strategy and is only a reference for new curlers to acquaint themselves with the basic concepts of the game. You can also watch this nifty video that might help explain some basics too!

Safety Precautions

Curlers get their “ice legs” after their first several games. It’s normally not difficult to get around on the ice. However, ice is ice, and a fall can result in serious injury. New curlers are cautioned to be very careful while moving or standing on the ice. Even experienced curlers should pay attention to these cautions: 

  1. When you first step onto the ice, please be sure your shoes are clean and take note of the ice conditions. Sometimes the ice is more slippery than usual. If so, use extra caution while walking on the ice. Wear a gripper on each foot or wear curling shoes whenever you are on the ice.
  2. Always watch where you walk, and never walk backwards!
  3. Never run on the ice.
  4. Unless you are delivering a stone, wear a gripper on your sliding foot if you are wearing curling shoes. If you are using a removable slider, remove the slider from underneath your foot once your delivery is complete.
  5. Always be very careful when stepping on/off the ice. Curlers are more likely to slip or fall when stepping onto or off the ice. 
  6. Step onto the ice with your “gripper” shoe, and be careful! Never use your slider foot to step onto the ice. 
  7. Never stop a rock with your hand. Your fingers can be crushed, especially if the rock hits another rock while you’re trying to stop it! 
  8. Never use your feet to stop a fast moving rock. You could lose your balance and fall. Use your broom or brush to stop a rock. 
  9. While sweeping, if you can’t keep up with a fast shot, back off! Don’t risk a fall on the ice. Never run to catch up to a rock. 
  10. Never go onto the ice when your balance is impaired from sickness, excessive alcohol, etc. A fall can cause serious injury!

Game Play 

Games are typically played between two teams over eight ends. Each team has four players, each player throwing two rocks per end. A coin toss is used at the beginning of each game to determine which team has last-rock advantage (hammer) in the first end. The team without hammer chooses which color rocks they will use throughout the game. 

The non-hammer team delivers the first rock of the game, followed by the hammer team. Delivery continues to alternate between the teams through the rest of the end, each player delivering two rocks, ending with the hammer. At the conclusion of each end, the vice-skips (and ONLY the vice-skips) meet in the house to agree on the score for the end. The scoring team loses hammer in the subsequent end and delivers the first rock in that end. 

Scoring

A rock must be touching the house to be a potential point. Only one team may score in each end. The scoring team is determined by the color of the rock closest to the center of the house (the pin). That team scores one point for every rock that is closer than the opposing team’s closest rock (yea…that’s a lot to digest. Read it again, slowly, and then look at the diagrams below and then go back and read it again). 

Figure 1 Left: Yellow scores three. Center: Yellow scores two. Right: Red scores one (note: only rocks touching the house/rings can count for scoring)

If the end concludes with no rocks touching the house, the end is “blanked,” neither team scores, and the hammer team retains the hammer in the next end. The score is determined after each end by the Vice Skips, and it is polite for all other players to keep clear of the house while they determine the score. 

Sheet Structure

A game of curling is played on a “sheet.” Sheets are approximately 150 ft long. Rocks are thrown from one end (“delivery end”) to the other end of the sheet (“playing end”). Rocks must come to rest within the playing area to be considered in play. The playing area is outlined by the hog line at the playing end, both sidelines and the back line. Rocks must rest within the inside edges of the hog line and either sideline (edge closest to the house). Rocks may come to rest on the backline and still be considered in play. A cartoon of the play area with these lined marked is in Figure 2, below.

Figure 2: Sheet Structure

Many teams use the Ferbey system to describe where a desired shot should come to rest or the weight of a stone that has been delivered. A cartoon of a house with Ferbey system labels is in Figure 3, below.

Figure 3: Cartoon of Ferbey System

Rocks expected to stop before reaching the house (guards) are described as a 1, 2 or 3. Rocks expected to stop at the top of the house are described by numbers 4-6 with tee-line draws as 7. Draws that continue past the tee-line into the back of the house are 8-10. 

Team Roles and Organization 

Teams are composed of 4 players, each player delivering two rocks in a fixed order every end. Traditionally, the order of players delivering the rocks is Lead, Second, Third/Vice, Fourth/Skip, however, Vice and Skip may throw from any position. 

Lead

The lead on each team throws the team’s first two rocks. The lead, along with the Second, is part of the Front End. The Lead will generally be responsible for setting up the end with guards and draws, but occasionally will need to hit opponent rocks as well. After delivering their two rocks, the Lead will sweep the remaining six rocks of the end. With six consecutive rocks to sweep, the Lead can have unique insight about the speed of the ice (“draw weight”) through an end and throughout the game.

Second

Following the Lead, the Second delivers the third and fourth rocks for each team.  Since the Second’s rocks come toward the end of the Free Guard Zone, the Second will have opportunities for both hits and draws. The Second will sweep the Lead’s rocks, deliver their own rocks, and then sweep the Vice/Third and Skip’s rocks. The Second fills out the Front End with the Lead. 

Third/Vice

The person delivering the third pair of rocks for each team traditionally also acts as the Vice-Skip. After delivering the fifth and sixth rocks for their team, the Vice will meet the Skip in the house and, if necessary, help the Skip identify the best options for the final two rocks (Skip’s stones) of the end. At the completion of each end, the Vice from both teams agree on and hang the score for the end. The Vice engages with both the Skip and the Front End and often manages the on-ice relationship between the Front and Back Ends. The Vice role makes up half of the Back End. 

Fourth/Skip

The captain of the team spends the majority of the game with the opposing Skip in the house at the playing end. The Skip is the leader of the team and decides the strategy for the entire game. Traditionally, the Skip throws the last two rocks for their team in each end and, with the Vice, makes up half of the Back End. 

Before Your First Game 

Hopefully by now you have a pretty good idea of what to expect when you show up for your first curling game with us! Here are a few quick notes, to help you along in your first game:

  • Wear comfortable, warm clothes that do not restrict your movement. You will be walking quickly on the ice and doing lunges. Jeans are generally discouraged. Dressing in layers is wise as you will tend to warm up as you sweep rocks throughout the game
  • Ice prep goes faster when everyone pitches in. Please plan to arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled draw time to stretch and help set up the ice for the game. If you’re not sure what to do, ask someone! The drawmaster is running the show, but if you don’t know who that is, any club member should be able to help.
  • Each game starts and ends with a handshake. Make sure you shake the hand of each opponent, and your teammates, and wish them “Good Curling” before the beginning of the game. At the end of the game, shake your opponents’ hands again, saying either “Good Curling” or “Good Game” to thank them for playing with you. 
  • During league games, be in position. That means you are standing on the sidelines while the other team is delivering, waiting near the hog line at the delivery end to get ready to deliver your next rock, and ready to sweep your team’s rocks. Unless you are the Vice or Skip, do not stand in or behind the house on the playing end when your team has thrown all its rocks. Rather, wait on the sidelines near the hog line for the last stone to be thrown. When the score has been decided, help clear the rocks.
  • If you are unable to make it to a scheduled game, please contact your skip and let them know. There are several options available for arranging for a spare:
    • You may reach out to a clubmate who has a bye or is otherwise available.
    • You may contact someone you know on the spare list.
    • You may post in #league on Slack letting people know you’re looking for a spare.
    • You may ask the drawmaster to help you find a spare.
  • After league games, players usually congregate at Stanley’s Sports Bar, upstairs from the rinks at both Solar4America locations. It is customary for the winning team to buy the first round of drinks and for the losing team to buy the second (if there is a second round!). Please, come up and enjoy the company of your fellow curlers. 

Glossary of Curling Terms

away end: The end of the sheet to which the first rock of a game is delivered
backline: The line tangent to the back of the house. Rocks coming to a rest touching the backline remain in play.
also A weight call intended to move rocks in play without removing them from play
biter: A rock that is just touching the outer edge of the house
blank end: An end in which no rocks are touching the house after all rocks have been delivered resulting in no score for either team
board (aka bumper): A takeout weight. Rocks thrown at this weight, if they did not hit anything, would come to rest about 6 ft behind the far hack. 
bonspiel: A curling tournament or competition
broom: Used both for sweeping and support in the delivery
burnt rock: A rock in motion touched by a player or a player’s equipment. If this occurs between the hog lines, the rock is taken out of play. 
button: The smallest circle of the house. The size of the button can vary between venues
clean: To lightly sweep in front of a rock to remove any debris from its path
control: A takeout weight. Rocks thrown at this weight, if they did not hit anything, would come to rest about 12 ft behind the far hack. 
curl: The curved path of the rock
draw: A call for a rock to come to a rest in the house
draw shot challenge (DSC): In a bonspiel, a measurement of players’ attempt(s) to draw to the pin often used as a tie-breaker in standings. Similar to last stone draw (LSD)
double takeout: A takeout that removes two of the opponents’ rocks from play
fall: A defect in the ice that causes a rock to curl negatively
free-guard zone: The area at the playing end between the hog line and tee line not including the house. Rocks resting in this zone are not allowed to be removed from play until the 6th rock of the end 
guard: A rock resting between the far hog line and the house, positioned to protect another rock
hack: Fixture in the ice used to push off during delivery. also A down-weight takeout. Rocks thrown at this weight, if they did not hit anything, would come to rest at the far hack. 
handle: The part of the rock that is held by a player. also Used to describe the desired rotation of the rock during delivery
hammer: The last rock delivered in an end
hog line: A line parallel to the tee-line 15 ft in front of the house on either end
hog line violation: Occurs when a rock is not released before reaching the hog line at the delivery end. The rock that is in violation is removed from play as a result
hogged rock: A rock that does not come to rest completely over the inside edge of the hog line at the playing end and is therefore removed from play
home end: The end of the sheet from where the first rock of the game is delivered
in-turn: For a right-handed thrower, the rotation applied to the handle of the rock such that the rock rotates clockwise
last stone draw (LSD): A measurement of a player’s draw attempt to sit closest to the pin often used as a tie-breaker in a game
line: The path the rock follows as it travels down the ice (includes curl)
negative ice: A shot where the stone is thrown with the opposite handle for the direction in which the stone is expected to curl due to issues in the flatness of the ice 
normal: A takeout weight. Rocks thrown at this weight, if they did not hit anything, would come to rest about 18 ft behind the far hack. 
out-turn: For a right-handed thrower, the rotation applied to the handle of the rock such that the rock rotates counter-clockwise
peel: Very fast takeout weight. Rocks thrown at this weight, if they did not hit anything, would come to rest about 30 ft behind the far hack
pin: The dead center of the house (where the tee-line and center-line intersect)
slider: The sliding part of the shoe that is in contact with ice during delivery. Made of Teflon or stainless steel. These can either be attached to the shoe, as is the case with dedicated curling shoes, or step-on pieces that are available for play with non-curling shoes
shooter: The rock that is being delivered
shot rock: The rock that is closest to the center of the house at any given time during the end
stabilizer: Used as a delivery aid for balance during the slide. Stabilizers provided by the club are made from PVC pipe. Stabilizers are also available in a number of forms for purchase from various curling equipment manufacturers
stone/rock: The object used in curling to score points. Made of granite or sometimes ceramic, a stone weighs 41lbs on average. The terms “stone” and “rock” are used interchangeably
tee-line: The horizontal line bisecting the house, perpendicular to the centerline. Draws are frequently called to be “tee-line weight”
takeout: When a rock is thrown with enough weight to remove another rock from play
weight: Describes the speed of the rock as it travels down the ice. Weight calls for draws are typically made by calling out where the rock is expected to stop. Takeout weights are typically called as one of the weights described above