Ernie Richardson’s family: curling as it should be
Draw Shots and Takeouts
Ernie Richardson’s family: curling as it should be
BY MARK MULVOY
Putting together a winning team in any sport takes considerable time and a great deal of patience. Molding different personalities, different temperaments and different skills into a smoothly functioning unit is something that can hardly be done overnight. As Ernie Richardson says, “You can take the four best curlers in the world, put them together and yet have one of the worst rinks imaginable. The best curling rinks consist of a delicate blend of all the finer points of the game. For instance, you don’t want a team composed of four players expert at draw shots but weak on takeouts. Finding four compatible curlers is not easy, believe me.”
One of the best rinks ever put together was the famed Richardson Rink. Ernie Richardson was the skip. Ernie’s cousin, Arnold, was the third or the vice-skip; his brother Garnet was the second; his cousin Wes was the lead. The Richardsons won four Macdonald Briers (Canadian championships) in five years — an incredible accomplishment. They also won four Scotch Cups (international championships), five provincial championships, a Masters title and a Tournament of Champions. And, Ernie Richardson adds, “There’s no telling how many cash spiels we won during those years.”
Let Ernie describe how the Richardson Rink operated: “We ate, slept and thought curling 24 hours a day. We decided to get serious about the game, so we sacrificed our free time and took off from work to play in as many bonspiels as we could. We really had the perfect team: four guys who thought alike. Garnet — we all call him Sam — was the holler guy on the team. When things were not going too well and we were
down in a game, Sam would cheer us up with his comments. He was also our best sweeper. Wes was a good sweeper too. Now Arnold was the quiet man. He never said anything. I don’t think he even knows the meaning of the word ‘argue.’ He was the ideal third or vice-skip. Once we made the commitment to compete everywhere, we curled four and five hours a day. We’d practise at the rink on the way home from work and we curled many a morning when we weren’t working. It all paid off.”
Basically, according to the Richardson formula, the makeup of a rink should follow a strategic design. The lead should be able to make draw shots with great consistency. He does not have to be a strong takeout player, but if he can play to the rings fairly well, this tactic keeps the opposition on the defensive. The lead should be a strong sweeper, so he needs to be in really good physical shape, because in curling competitions he might have to sweep four or five games in one day.
The second must be a fine hitter, and also a strong sweeper. Richardson explains: “He should always be able to come up with a double if the lead happens to miss that shot; that is, he should be able to take out one rock and then roll over and take out the other. So the second must be able to play the finesse shots — unlike the lead.”
The third must be able to play the fine shots. “The viceskip,” Richardson explains, “actually has to be able to play the same shots as the skip — only he does not throw last. Slow taps, raised shots, draw shots around guards, takeout shots — everything.” As vice-skip, he also has to know the ice as well as the skip himself. While the third does not necessarily have to
be a good sweeper, he needs to be able to judge the weight of incoming stones so that he can instruct the sweepers.
The skip has to be able to play every shot in the book, and also know when to call them. Richardson goes on to say: “He must have great draw weight — that is, his draw shots have to be strong enough to go against two, three or four stones in order to save a point or an end for his team.” He has to praise and encourage his players to keep their morale and confidence high, and he must have a good disposition and an even temper. “I learned very early in my curling career that the skip has to take the good with the bad,” Richardson recalls. But the most important quality a skip must have is the ability to play under pressure, since games invariably depend on the talents of the skip playing the last rock. Richardson’s advice: “If you cannot play under pressure, then become lead or second.”
When the Richardson Rink was beating the world and winning all those Briers and Scotch Cups, skip Ernie Richardson always used a very simple but very effective game plan to rout the opposition. “We won all our championships by getting rid of every opposition stone in the house. We never took a chance and let their stones stay around. And now that I think of it, I think we won a lot of games by simply demoralizing the other rinks with our takeouts. They would put a rock in the house, and we would promptly knock it out. After a while the opposition would begin to lose hope.”
A lthough curling is not a contact sport, it is a game of in/% tense physical and mental pressure. The best strategy / % in a curling match is to apply instant pressure by m taking advantage of your team’s strengths and your rivals’ weaknesses. A skip’s strategy for his team depends upon the particular talents of his players. If they lack takeout power, he should not play a takeout game. But if they have Richardson-like knockout ability, he should certainly use it to the best advantage.
What most curling games come down to, though, is what is known as “last-rock advantage.” The side with last-rock advantage is always in the driver’s seat. The last rock, after all, can cancel out everything the opposition has accomplished in a particular end. In fact, the last rock is so important that (depending on the score) many skips will decide to blank an end by shooting their stone completely through the house rather than win one point and lose that last-rock advantage in the next end. (The winner of one end, of course, plays the first rock in the next end.)
A hidden psychological advantage with the last rock is the pressure it places on the rival skip. Forced to play a takeout game himself in order to survive, the rival skip may even-
tually submit to the pressure and miss what looks like an easy takeout of one or more of your rocks. Now you have him in a fix, and you can simply draw into the house and pick up extra points. This kind of pressure can demoralize the opposition and cause them to make more mistakes. And, as Richardson says, “Like all sports, curling comes down to mistakes. The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. When the Richardson rink was at its peak, we always made the other team make the mistakes.”
Although the Richardsons specialized in a knock-’em-out style of attack, there are, of course, other strategies for pointmaking. Here are some of Ernie Richardson’s thoughts about skipping strategy:
1. “If at the start of a game you do not have last rock, you as skip should have your lead start off by playing a rock in the centre of the house, preferably in front of the tee line, or outside the rings as a guard. Later in the game, if you are ahead by four or five points, have the lead man stop his rock in front of the tee line so the rival curlers can’t freeze to it. Or have him throw his rock through the house. I used to have my lead throw his rock through the rings when the Richardson rink was up three or four points late in a game. I never wanted too many rocks around the house under such circumstances. By doing that, we put pressure on the other side.
2. “Say that you have last-rock advantage in the first end and the rival lead has placed his first rock in the centre of the house. Have your lead try to knock him out but still keep his own rock inside. If the rival rock is not in the house, draw to the outside corner of the rings. Ideally, after the first two rocks have been played, only one rock — your lead’s second rock — will be in the house.
3. “When playing draw shots, have your players place their rocks as far apart from each other as possible. This helps prevent the other team from knocking out two of yours with one stone. Also, by doing so, you pressure the opposition into attemping ultra-delicate shots — the easiest kind to miss. If they do miss, then you draw into the middle. Suddenly, you have built up a three or four point end! And shaken their confidence!
4. “When you are down in a game and need points, don’t try to take out a rival stone that is only the third or fourth scoring shot in the house, especially when the first and second scoring shots are yours. Instead, draw into the rings as far away from that third or fourth scoring shot as possible.” ■
This is an excerpt from Ernie Richardson's Curling: Techniques And Strategy by Mark Mulvoy with Ernie Richardson, published by McClelland and Stewart. Ernie formed the famous Richardson rink in 1959 and dominated the world of curling throughout the Sixties.
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