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Monday, November 17, 2008

Statistics for Womens’ Curling and What is “Control”?

We’ve finally gathered data for Women’s Curling events. This data is taken from 4-rock games played during Provincial, Scotties (i.e. Canadian National Championship), World Championships, Olympic Trials, Olympics and WCT events over the last several years. Unfortunately our sample size is larger (more than double) for the men’s events. However, we have enough numbers to give some indication of general trends and comparisons with the games of their opposite sex counterparts. So what do we find?

Tied with Hammer

Within 1-2% of the men until the End Game (last 3 ends). During final ends, winning chances for women are 60, 61 and then 69% in the final end vs. 65, 66 and 75% for men.

1 Down with Hammer
Of all the scenarios, this is most similar to men’s numbers. Usually only 1-2% better chance for women to overcome the deficit of 1 down with hammer to win. Final three ends have same pattern: women’s is 39% to 37% to 39% (38, 35 and then 38% for men).

2 Down with Hammer
Women’s teams are again 1-2% more likely to win in this position except for the final end where data shows a 14.5% chance for a women’s team versus 10% chance for a men’s.

3 Down with Hammer
A 2-4% better chance for women’s team throughout the game.

Down 4 or more with hammer
Shows generally 2-4% increase in chance for women’s team.

1 Up with Hammer
A 2-3% better chance of holding this lead for men’s teams than for women’s.

2 Up with Hammer
Within 2-3 % early on but actually men’s teams hold on to win 4-6% more often from the Middle Game onward, with the exception of the final end where the difference is only 2%

3 Up or more with Hammer
Within 2-3 % early on but actually men’s teams hold on to win 4-6% more often during the Middle Game. The results from the End Game (final 3 ends) are nearly the same – you win nearly every time if you are in this spot.

What does this tell us about Women’s Curling?

Women’s teams tend to have a higher chance of coming back from a deficit and, subsequently, less chance of holding onto a lead. The difference is less noticeable in close games (tied or 1 up) and tends to widen as one team takes a more dominant position. That is, the greater the lead the greater the difference versus men’s teams in likelihood of a comeback. If we believe the ability to throw heavy peel weight successfully is the major difference in women’s and men’s games, then these numbers look much like what we would expect.

The most noticeable and important difference seen is the case of tied with hammer or down two with hammer in the final ends. The difference is about 5%. These numbers provide some support to determine how women’s teams might approach the game differently than men’s teams. For example, if tied with hammer with 3 or 2 ends remaining, a women’s team may be less inclined in blanking to retain hammer than in forcing a score. Tied with hammer is, during these ends, not a statistical advantage over 1 up without. In fact, with 2 ends remaining, women’s teams have a slight (2%) statistical edge in being 1 up without hammer! In the men’s game tied with hammer is an advantage of 3-4% with 3 ends remaining and 1% with 2 remaining.

What is Control?
A common term heard over drinks at curling rinks across the globe is “Control”. “If we make this shot for two that will put us in control”. “You had control from the 5th end on”. And, the most hated phrase “We had control the whole game and lost it at the end”. So, statistically speaking, what do we think is meant by “Control”?

I propose that there are actually three positions during a game a team can be in. If one is Control it follows that there must be another type of game that is closer than this, which I will call a “Close” game. It also then is reasonable to suggest there is a position where you are even better than in control, let’s call this “Dominant” position.

If we assign the game condition based on a probable outcome:

Close occurs when the odds for a win is no greater than 66% for either team. Another way to say this is the team behind has better than 2-1 odds of winning.

Control exists when one team has greater than 66% but less than 80% odds of winning. This range is between 2-1 odds and 4-1 odds for the team that is behind.

Dominant position is when one team holds a greater than 80% statistical chance of winning. Another way to show this is greater than 4-1 odds of a comeback.

Based on these numbers:
Control” occurs when team is:
Tied with hammer in the final two ends or extra end.
Up 2 without hammer anytime before two ends remain.
Up 1 with hammer anytime before the final four ends

With three and four ends remaining, 2 up without hammer is right at 79 and 80% respectively. With two or fewer ends left, you are Dominant in this position. When statistically in “Control” Up 1 with hammer, you are between 77 to 80%, with the exception of the third end in a ten end game where your chances are 75%.

Close” position occurs when a team is:
Down 1 with hammer
Tied with hammer anytime before the final two ends
When tied with hammer and 2 ends remaining, chance of winning is exactly 66% - so we could argue whether a team has Control at this stage or it is Close.

Dominant” position occurs at any other score during the game.
We can start to analyze our pre-game and in-game strategy using the definitions of Control, Close and Dominant. I’d also suggest incorporating the definitions for which section of the game, based on Early, Middle and End Game (from article of Nov 2008, “Is Curling a Battle For Hammer?”). Recall the End Game is the final 3 ends and extra end if required. The Middle Game is the middle 3 ends and the Early game is then either 4 ends for a 10 end game or 2 ends for an 8 end match.

Using this model creates the following 9 game scenarios:

I’d suggest teams could use this model as a way to develop pre-game strategies for how to approach each of these positions. I might even tack a stab at examining these, but that will have to be left for another article…

Statistics for Grand Slams
Watching the Masters a short while ago (except the semi’s which were on the BOLD network –wherever that is), I started to question the statistical basis we are using and see if there are some discrepancies for the Slam events versus the entire dataset for all WCT (including Slams), Olympics, Olympic Trials, Brier, Worlds and Provincials. Our data size is still very small but I wanted to get a general sense if we saw any differences. Tied with hammer in final or extra end is currently nearly 80% for Slams versus 75%. 1 down with hammer in 9 was 39%, close to our baseline of 38%. Down two with hammer was about 12% versus 10%. The only major difference appears to be tied with hammer. The Slams numbers are based on sample size of about 270, compared to over 3000 in our full dataset. Assuming that Grand Slam teams are generally stronger than the other fields; does this mean better teams win more than 75% when tied with hammer? Possibly yes, but difficult to say for certain without a larger sample.

If Martin played Howard a single end game 20,000 times, each team having hammer for 10,000, what do you think the percentages would look like?