28 February 2011

What Curling Is Not

"Isn't that the game that looks like shuffleboard on ice?"

If I had a dollar for every person who responded that way, I'd be a rich man.  (Hey, maybe I should demand a dollar every time I'm asked that question!) As polite as I am when asked that question.....

I just don't see it.  

I mean, sure, I know why people draw the parallel.  Stuff is slid down a long, skinny playing surface for points.  However, there are several major differences between the sports.

1. Scoring.  In shuffleboard, according to international rules, each team can score in each frame.  In curling, only one team can score per end.

2. Delivery.  The puck in shuffleboard is delivered straight, with a stick.  Stones are curled, usually delivered by hand, and not straight. There is the phenomenon of stick curling, where the curler does not crouch into the hack, but that isn't the norm.

3. The "target".  The house in curling looks like.... well, a target.  Shuffleboard has scoring areas (including a subtraction area!) in a triangular shape.  

4. Strategy.  Shuffleboard is largely a game of takeouts and few guards - since as many pucks as possible can score on either side, it is beneficial to knock out the other player's pucks and make your pucks score.  In curling, more defense is played.

5. Sweeping.  Once the puck in shuffleboard is released.... that's it.  It goes where it goes.  In curling, of course, the sweepers can brush the stone farther and straighter.

6. Shuffleboard can be played on a cruise ship. Curling cannot because it requires ice.... oh.  Wait.  Never mind on this one.  

Some people have also billed curling as "chess on ice". I understand that only slightly better.  After all, there is a lot of forward thinking strategy that goes into curling, just like there is in chess.  However, as the old Curling News blog so eloquently stated it:

Has anyone ever offered that “chess is like curling with multiple pieces, physical components and a very different playing surface”?  Doubt it.

I admit that I am guilty of comparing curling to other sports as well.  The ones that I most commonly compare with is bocce (or petanque).   In those sports, an initially tiny ball, the pallino or jack, is tossed.   After that, teams alternate tossing larger balls in an attempt to land closest to the pallino.  Balls, in that case, are not necessarily tossed straight, but with a spin, to make them land closer to the pallino.  In each frame, the scoring is similar to curling - closest to the pallino (which I think of as a mobile button) wins, and multiples can be awarded based on how many balls are closer than the opponent's closest ball. 

But even this is a false comparison.  The strategy in bocce is much less complex than that of curling, as there are no guards and there are no blank ends.  And, like shuffleboard, it's really a sport that doesn't translate well to team skill - the throw is what it is, and is not assisted.  

And it's not hockey.  Yes, we know.  It's played on ice.  No, we don't wear skates.  

So, why do we do this?  Why must we compare curling to anything?  Sure, it makes it easier for the neophyte to gain a small piece of understanding of a sport that he or she might not initially "get."  But what curling IS is an experience beyond anything you've ever had, be it as a participant or as a fan!  It's tension.  It's strategy.  It's chit-chatting with your opponents in a friendly manner.  It's chit-chatting with spectators in a friendly manner.  

This sport might look like a lot of things you've seen before.  It might even have elements of things you've seen before.  But curling is NOT like anything else you've ever experienced.

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