While You’re in My House, You’ll Obey My Rules!!
October 24, 2005 Updated Feb. 2013
One of the truly great things about curling is that for the vast majority of play, the players themselves are responsible for making sure everyone plays by the rules. Officials, (especially on ice officials) don’t show up until you get into some higher levels of competition. Let’s face it, what other sport operates that way? It’s a game rich with etiquette and sportsmanship (sportswomanship too!) and part of being a good sport is playing by the rules. I’ll save etiquette in general for another article but considering how the rules are enforced in curling it’s important to know them. Most of us learn the rules of the game through playing, we go out on the ice and when there’s a question about a ruling the most experienced person educates everyone on what the rules say. The trouble with this is that there are a lot of “experienced” players who don’t know the rules.
To be fair to those experienced players, the rules do change and not everyone reads the rulebook on a regular basis (shocking, I know…). The 2012 to 2014 Rules of Curling published by the CCA (Canadian Curling Association) has 51 pages of rules for the game. That sounds like a lot but there are actually two sets of rules in that book, one for General Play (that’s most of us) and one for Officiated Play. Still, that means there are 21 pages dedicated to the rules for General Play.
I most certainly won’t discuss each and every rule in the book here but I will go over some that can cause difficulty. (And yes, that does mean the Free Guard Zone rule…) First off, Rule 10, Touched Moving Stones or more commonly known as “burnt rocks”. I’m not sure where that term originated but for the record, the word “burnt” doesn’t show up anywhere in the rulebook. The rule states that the rock shall not be touched by “any player, equipment or personal belongings of the team to which it belongs.” Pay attention to “personal belongings”. Yes, a Kleenex is a personal belonging as is any money, good luck charm, cell phone etc. that may happen to be in your pocket. If anything falls from your person and contacts the rock then the rock is considered to be a touched delivered stone.
Another confusing part of this rule is what happens when a stone has been touched. This is confusing because it has recently changed!! Yes, it pays to read the rule book. The old rule used to state that if a stone was touched the offending team should declare the violation then let play proceed. The non-offending team could then determine whether they wanted to remove the stone and replace everything or leave it as it stood. That is NO LONGER THE CASE! Now, if a moving stone is touched between the hog lines that stone it is immediately removed from play.
While we’re on the subject of touching stones, how many of you have seen skips tap a stone in the house with their brooms to signal a take out? Please don’t do this. There is absolutely no need to touch these stones and you run the very real risk of moving it. If you do move a stone in this way and there is some question whether it’s shot or not, then the ruling is against you, automatically. This is covered in Rule 11. This is particularly important when it comes time to measure stones. How often have you seen people lay their brooms in front of the stones to be measured? DON’T DO THIS! First, it’s a safety hazard. You’re just asking someone to trip over those brooms. Second, if someone kicks the broom by accident and displaces one of the stones to be measured BEFORE it’s measured then the owner of the broom is deemed to be at fault and forfeits the points involved. This is clearly stated in Rule 14 (9) of Officiated Rules and Rule 13 (9) of General Rules. So, put your brooms on the back boards. Really, only the two vices should be in the house anyway and if they can’t remember which stones are being measured…well…
On to Rule 11, Sweeping and Brushing. This one causes confusion particularly around who is allowed to sweep in the house. A lot of that was due to the fact that there used to be different rules in Canada compared to the rest of the world. Thankfully, that changed when Canada and the rest of the world came to an agreement one set of rules. The rule says only the skip or vice skip of the non-delivering team may sweep their stones after they have been set in motion. That’s pretty clear, generally the lead and second of the non-delivering team aren’t in the house or inside the hog line anyway. The rule also states that behind the tee line only one player from each team may sweep at one time. This can be the skip or vice of either team, or the lead or second of the delivering team. Sometimes the house gets a little crowded (with rocks and players) and when someone throws a take out it gets confusing. Remember, there should only be two players (one from each team) ever sweeping behind the tee line. There is a lot more to this rule. It also covers how you are allowed to sweep a stone. Many people think that the rules say you can’t have the handle of the broom over the stone as you sweep. It doesn’t actually say that, it only says that the sweeping / brushing motion must be from side to side. This means you can’t sweep in the direction of the stones path down the ice. No snowplowing or “dumping” allowed.
Okay, on to the Free Guard Zone, Rule 12. If you want to see just how much confusion there is on this rule, just ask someone where the Free Guard Zone is. Go, ahead, ask anyone. I’ll bet you get more different answers than you thought you would. This can be the most confusing rule for new curlers but in my humble opinion it has saved our blessed game. Let me explain why this rule is in place because that might help you understand what it’s all about and how it works. In 1991 the Brier (the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship) was held in Hamilton. The Free Guard Zone was not in place meaning any rock could be removed at any time. Kevin Martin and his team used this to take out every opposing rock that was put in play. Ten end games were ending up with a 3 – 2 score. To be fair, many other teams had been exploiting this for a while leading up to this point but none were as proficient as Martin’s team. The ideal situation (this is what Martin was trying to accomplish) would be to get the hammer in the first end then blank 9 ends. Come the 10th end you draw your last rock into the house for one and therefore win the game 1 – 0. I know it sounds impossible but the problem was, Martin and his team were just about good enough to do that! There was very little “game” left. Teams needed to make a series of big mistakes to get anything going at all. There was very little strategy left. There was nowhere to hide rocks and the resulting game was very boring to watch. Now, you certainly have to admire the skill required to consistently rip rocks out of the house over 2 ½ hours (after all, every take out was a peel where the shooter had to roll out too!) but after 15 or 20 of them, it begins to look a little routine. It became very difficult to attract new players to a game that appeared to be so simple and honestly, so boring. To bring more rocks into play the ruling curling bodies decided to implement what is known as the Free Guard Zone. This rule is intended to allow teams to put up a couple guards without having them immediately sent to the back boards by the opposition. There were a number of different versions of this rule such as the Moncton Rule (so named for a bonspiel where it was first used) whereby no rock be removed until the fifth rock of the end no matter where it was. It was felt that this was too extreme and the compromise was Free Guard Zone rule. The current rule states that no opposition rocks in the Free Guard Zone can be removed from play until the fifth rock of the end. So leads, if you like throwing take out, I suggest you move to a different position. Leads can still throw take outs on rocks in the house or behind the tee but a take out is a less common shot for them than it once was. There are a lot of small, important points in that rule and I quite like it because every word is important. First, back to where we started, where is the Free Guard Zone?
The Free Guard Zone is the area between the hog line and the tee line, excluding the house. It is NOT the area behind the tee line outside the house. The tee line is not in the free guard zone. If a rock is outside the house and biting the tee line, it is NOT in the Free Guard Zone and may be removed at any time. So, a rock in the free guard zone can’t be hit until the fifth rock of the end right? Wrong. The rule is very precise, it says, “…no rocks in the FGZ can be removed from play…”. You can hit a rock in the free guard zone; just don’t remove it from play. You can bump it into the house (then take it out on your next shot!), or push it to the side, just don’t remove it from play. If you do remove an opponents stone in the free guard zone before the fifth stone of the end, then it goes back to where it was and the thrown stone is removed.
It also says, “…no opposition stone…” so, you can take out your own guards if you want. Sometimes you might want to, really! Also, there is no option on this rule to let the play stand. With the Free Guard Zone rule, if you take it out, you put it back. It’s a good rule and I personally think it has recharged the game. Many of you won’t know what it’s like to play without this rule but it was a drastically different game before it was put into place.
You can learn a lot of really interesting things about the game just by reading the rulebook. Even as a non-competitive player knowing the rules helps your game. As a coach, I make sure I have a current copy of the rulebook and I keep up with changes that occur. I would be very happy to answer any questions any of you have about the rules. I may have to dig out the book myself but please don’t be shy about asking me.