Kaitlyn Lawes, who plays third for Team Jennifer Jones, throws a stone during the 2016 Players' Championship in Toronto. (Photo: Anil Mungal)

What is mixed doubles curling?

February 7, 2018, 4:15 PM

So, you’re watching mixed doubles curling for the first time in the Winter Olympics and wondering what’s going on?

We’ll admit, the rules can be confusing — especially when regular curling is tricky enough to figure out for a newbie — but we don’t judge and are here to help.

While it’s played on the same kind of ice sheet and using the same equipment and rocks, there are some key differences from the traditional four-person team event. Here are the rules you need to know.


Too long; didn’t read

Alright, here’s a quick table covering the key differences in case you don’t want to read further on and just want the basics.

Rules Mixed Doubles Four-Player
Players 1 male
1 female
4 of same gender
Ends 8 10
Rocks per team per end 6 8
Rocks pre-positioned? Yes No
Power play? Yes No
Four-rock rule Applied to all rocks Only in free-guard zone
Thinking time 22 minutes 38 minutes
Blank end Lose hammer Retain hammer

A brief history of mixed doubles curling

Mixed doubles curling started as part of the Continental Cup, a Ryder Cup-style tournament with Canada and the U.S. teaming up to take on the rest of the world.

A world mixed doubles curling championship has been held annually since 2008. Switzerland leads the way with six titles while Russia and Hungary have won two each.

A total of 39 countries competed in last year’s world mixed doubles curling championship as the sport has caught on globally. In 2015 it was announced mixed doubles curling had been added to the 2018 Winter Games schedule in Pyeongchang, South Korea.


Number of players

Each team consists of one male and one female player as oppose to four players of the same gender in the traditional game that you’ll see later in the Winter Olympics.


Number of rocks & scoring

If traditional curling is like chess on ice then mixed doubles curling is more like checkers with a faster pace, more rocks in play and higher scoring.

Teams have six stones each although they actually only throw five of them.

The team with the hammer (throwing second in order) has one rock pre-positioned on the centre line behind the button in the house with one rock from the opposing team guarding it about a broom-length away from the top of the house in the free-guard zone.

Player one throws the first and last rocks while the second player delivers the middle three. The players can switch positions between ends.

The teams alternate throwing their rocks until all of them have been played.

Last-rock advantage, or the hammer, is determined by a draw-to-the-button shootout by both players prior to the start of the match.

After both teams have finished throwing all of their rocks, the team with the most rocks closer to the pin of the button (the centre of the house) than their opponent’s nearest rock scores a corresponding amount of points. Usually this is the team with the hammer, since they throw last, however, the team without the hammer can also “steal” points if the other team is unable to eliminate their closest rock(s).

Just one team can score per end and since each team only has six rocks, a maximum of six points can be scored in each end.

In regular curling, if there are no stones in the house upon the conclusion of an end, the end is considered a blank and the team with hammer retains it for the next end. This does not happen in mixed doubles as a blank results in a loss of hammer, so even if the house is empty the team with the hammer will settle for a single point.


Sweeping

When a rock is thrown, the second player can sweep the rock or remain the house to keep an eye on the path while the shooter gets up and sweeps the rock themselves.


Number of ends

Each period of play is called an end and mixed doubles curling is played to eight ends. Traditional curling in the Winter Olympics goes to 10 ends, although eight is commonplace on the World Curling Tour and the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.

If the score is tied after eight ends, an extra end is played.

With fewer rocks and ends, it makes for a much quicker pace but also leaves less margin for error. A mixed doubles curling game can be played in just over an hour as opposed to the 2.5-3 hours required for a 10-end traditional game.


Power play

Teams can call a power play once per game when they have the hammer. The power play shifts the pre-positioned rocks on the centre line to the edge of the eight-foot circle on the left or right side of the sheet with the opposite guard also moving over so it is aligned.

With most of the game being played down the middle of the ice, it can flip the momentum of a game in an instant. While it’s possible to score “short-handed” and steal an end, it has led to mostly scores of three and four and has been a key ace in the pocket for teams towards the middle of the match to close the gap or for teams to end a game sooner.

The power play cannot be used in an extra end.


Free-guard zone?

The space outside the house from the tee line at the centre up to the nearest hog line (the horizontal line rocks must cross to remain in play) is called the free-guard zone. In traditional curling, rocks resting in this zone cannot be eliminated until four rocks have been played (a.k.a. the four-rock rule).

If a team hits and takes out a stone in the free-guard zone prior to the fifth rock of play, the stone is returned to its original resting spot while the shooter is removed from play.

This is similar in mixed doubles curling — rocks cannot be removed prior to the fourth rock delivered — except it’s extended to all rocks in play including those pre-positioned at the start.


Thinking time

This is the clock for each team you see in the background. Teams have a total of 22 minutes of thinking time over the course of the match, which ticks down while they decide what to do with their next shot.

If a team runs out of time, they will stop delivering stones for the rest of the eight-end game.

Thinking time clocks are reset to three minutes if an extra end is required regardless of how much time a team had remaining.

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