THE LAHLUM CURLING ROUND REPORT 3
The third day was the most demanding one for players as well arbiters and organizers, as it included two matches for all the teams and a total of four playing sessions. The writer was not too happy when finishing yesterday´s round report after 03.00 last night – only then realizing that the Monday morning matches were to start at 08.00 instead of the usual 09.00! Fortunately all the involved team players of course were well aware this, and the confused round report writer somehow succeeded to be among the around 20 spectators present at 07.59. In international chess tournaments we never start the games before 09.00.
First pass: Women´s Group A round 4
The early wake up apparently worked out much better for some teams than for others, as two teams had a nightmare position after the first two ends. Czech republic had the hammer and made efficient use of it when their opponents from Estonia made several blunders. The match appeared more or less decided as 5–0 came on the scoreboard after the first end. Although Estonia never managed to close that gap, the rest of the match became much more interesting than expected. As the Estonias improved their play while Czech Republic became a bit too careful and somehow appeared shaken by their own lead, Turkey went on to win 1–0 in all the next four ends. Leading 5–4 with the hammer, Czech republic still of course had a promising position midway. After 0–0 in the sixth end they increased the lead to 6–4 in the seventh end (although wasting chances for a bigger plus). The eight and ninth end both gave open positions and a 1–0 win for the team having the last stone. In the tenth end Estonia resigned without waiting for the final stone, as Czech Republic anyway had the best stone plus a lead. This match might illustrate how fatal a nightmare first end can be – or alternatively the possibilities to make a curling match exciting even if losing 0–5 in the first end. Note however also that Estonia lost only 5–7 a match in which their opponents had the last stone in seven out of ten ends. No shadow of course to fall over the Czech team, winning this match well deserved following the traditions of the sport as well as the current rules. Still I am a bit surprised to learn that curling players reportedly spend a lot of time to discuss whether to play eight or ten ends, but almost no time to discuss whether it would be an improvement to alternate the hammer advantage from end to end.
The other late starter today was Turkey, losing 0–2 in both the first ends against Denmark. The Danish team first handled the unexpected opening success very well and were ahead 5–1 after the fourth end. Although Turkey narrowed the gap by winning 2–0 in the fifth end, a 5–3 lead with the hammer still gave Denmark a winning position midway in the match. In the sixth end Denmark with the hammer however wasted promising chances and lost 0–1. Although they were back in a two point lead after the seventh end, the ambitious young Turks saw a chance to make this match exciting after all. Last stone of the eight end was a key, as Denmark put a pressure upon Turkey and had the four best stones in. A miss would be fatal, but Turkey´s very talented skip Dilsat Yildiz kept her nerves and saved a one point win for Turkey. Denmark more or less had a match ball as they were leading 6–5 towards the end of the ninth end. They however missed the chance and instead allowed Turkey to steal another point – equalizing the score at 6–6 before the last end. Denmark still had a big advantage as they kept the hammer, but the trend now was clearly in favour of Turkey – who won the match by a miracle after Denmark again failed their last stone chance to decide. This result end might have been very important for next year´s Group A, as Denmark at 0/4 was about to lose Turkey and other teams at 2/4 our of sight.
Sweden for sure will be in the Group A next year. Today they won rather confident 5–3 in a fast match against Italy. Remarkably the Swedish team over the night made a successful change of strategy as they today won in a match with many open positions, after yesterday losing a match with many closed positions. Although Sweden started up with the hammer, Italy made a fairly promising start – using their chance to win 2–0 as Sweden blundered on their final stone in the third end. Anna Hasselborg immediately hit back with a sound 3–0 win in the fourth end, reaching a 4–2 lead. The rest of the match was remarkably stable. Sweden all of the time was ahead two points without the hammer or one point with the hammer, as Italy continued to enter open positions without finding any good plans to handle them. Up 5–3 before the tenth end Sweden could just control the win, as Italy still failed to come up with any disturbing counterplay.
The remaining two matches both had a great importance for the semi final tickets. Scotland versus Germany was a duel between two teams having played much better than expected and won all their three matches so far. The match however became less exciting than expected as this turned out to be the round when Germany hit their heads into a wall, while Scotland headed by Eve Muirhead just continued to walk confidently around on the water. Following a careful start with 1–1 from the two first ends, Scotland accelerated as Muirhead with an accurate last stone gave Scotland a 3–0 win in the third round. True enough Muirhead made one of her rare mistakes in the fourth end, allowing the Germans to win back two points. Scotland still however kept the lead plus the hammer. The match was more or less decided as Scotland got the neccessary help to win three more points in the sixth end – reaching a 7–3 lead with only four rounds left. Germany demonstrated their capacity and kept the match alive by a good seventh end, but winning 2–0 still was too little and too late in this situation. With a Scottish 8–5 lead, the final position after the ninth end was in for measurement. Germany immediately resigned when the new score 9–5 came up, but of course even 6–8 would have been a hopeless position with one end left and the Scottish team keeping the hammer. Muirhead suddenly is playing close to her maximum capacity and her Scottish team seems unstoppable at Lillehammer – so far. Germany and their 39 year old skip Daniela Jentsch by the way are still en route for a semi final.
Russia on the other hand came back to a 50 % score in the tournament and was behind schedule for a semi final ticket after losing against Swizerland this morning. As often in curling, the final score of 10–6 was a bit misleading: The score was 6–6 after the eight end, but as the Russians lost 0–2 in the ninth end they understandably pushed too hard in the tenth. World Champion Switzerland and their very experienced skip Silvana Tirinzoni still won very well deserved and was in reasonable control during the second half of this match. The first half on the other hand was shaky. The very capable but still uneven Russia team had a promising lead at 4–2, before losing 0–4 in a disasterous fifth end.
Second pass: Men´s Group A round 4
As the Netherlands had lost all their three first matches while Scotland had won all three with a convincing margin, the Dutchmen needed a good start to make this match exciting. Instead they got a true nightmare start. The Scottish players took this match very seriously and spent a lot of time in the first end, but found a good plan and instructively punished the opponents mistakes to win 4–0. Winning a match after start up at 0–4 against this Scottish team might have some similarities to holding back an elephant with bare hands. Netherlands improved their play and did fairly well as the next four ends all had a normal 1–0 win for the team with the hammer. The Dutch players actually came close to stealing a point in the fourth end, before skip Bruce Mouat saved his team by a wafer-thin margin. Scotland then built up a promising pressure in the sixth, and went on to win it 3–0 after the Dutch skip blundered on his final stone. Down 2–9 with four ends left, the resignation was well timed from a Dutch point of view.
Switzerland after losing their first two matches badly needed a second win today. The timing was far from good as they had to enter the rink against Sweden – which was accelerating after their slow start and also in need of points to assure their expected place in the semi finals. The first ends true enough were greedy and tight: Sweden used the last stone to win 1–0 in the first end, and following two 0–0 ends Switzerland equalized in the fourth. With a small margin following an accurate last stone from Edin, Sweden however succeeded to win 2–0 in the fifth end. The match for all practical purposes were decided when Switzerland blundered in the sixth end, allowing Sweden to steal two more points and reach a very promising 5–1 lead. As the Swedes continued their inspired play Swizerland again came under pressure in the seventh end, although a strong finish from their skip Benoit Schwarz avoided a disaster and saved one point. As Switzerland had to run too big risks Sweden however won 2–0 again in the eight round. After this the Suisse players took the hint and resigned with a not too promising 2–7 on the scoreboard.
Sweden and Scotland played in each in the first round on Saturday, and before that match most experts around here considered it most likely that they will also play each other in the last match next Saturday. Such a scenario seems all the more likely as Scotland has kept their form from the first round match, while Sweden have successfully forgotten that match and refound their usual world top class. Switzerland often was mentioned as the most capable challenger to Scotland and Sweden before the tournament, hence this was a key match from a Swedish point of view. Having lost three out of their first four matches, Switzerland probably will have to win all their remaining matches in the round robin to get a ticket for the semi finals.
The Nordic duel between Denmark and Finland also was a very important match for both teams, but became much less exciting than expected. The loud speaking Danish team started up where they finished the match against Norway yesterday, efficiently using the hammer to win 2–0 in the first end. The more low-key Finns played fair enough for the next ends, winning 1–0 when getting the hammer in both the second and fourth end. The Danish team however established a powerful initiative in the fifth end, and reached a very promising 5–2 position as they succeeded to win two more points. The Finns had another 1–0 win in the sixth end, but the Danish players of course were very well satisfied to have 5–3 and the hammer before the seventh end. The seventh end a bit unexpectedly became the final one in this match, as the Finn team again failed to defend accurate enough. Following two very good stones from the Danish skip Mikkel Krause, his team won more points. The Finns immediately resigned when 3–9 came up on the scoreboard. Denmark might be the unpredictable Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde team of this group, but so far their trend have been upward all the time following a low starting point. Finland on the other hand have lost three matches following their promising first round win, and now will have to fight for their right to play the top group again in 2022.
Norway versus Germany following the results so far was another key game between two candidates for the semi finals. The first end was an open position leading to all the stones dispappearing, but Norway made better use of the hammer in the second end and won this 2–0. In the third end Norwegian skip Steffen Walstad in one of his closed favourite strategical landscapes put some pressure on the Germans before their last stone, and was rewarded by a 1–0 steal. The match at 0–3 obviously was an uphill walk from a German point of view, but following a strong last stone they narrowed the margin to 2–3 in the fourth end. Walstad has been doing very well with his draw shots this tournament, and demonstrated this again as Norway in the sixth end won 2–0 and moved ahead to 5–2.
Once more the Norwegians appeared to lose some concentration during seventh and eight end, allowing Germany to win both and again get the opponent within reach. Again finding back his focus in the endgame of the match, Walstad increased the lead to 6–4 thanks to a nice final shot in the ninth end. The situation in which one team are two points ahead while the other team has the hammer in the tenth end is very well known in curling. Usually, but far from always, this will result in a win for the team which is in the lead. An emergency exit for teams in this situation is to lose 0–2 in the tenth and play the eleventh end with the hammer advantage. True to his playing style, Walstad although about to run short of time on the clock entered a close and complex positional struggle. Norway delivered a strong last stone with 15 seconds left on the clock, leaving a heavyweight pressure upon the German skip to find a useful takeout and win the two points needed to prolong the match. An unexpected search for a breakthrough on the right flank actually was a cunning plan from Germany´s young skip Sixten Totzek. As if failed, Norway still stole one point and won the match 7–4.
Italy versus Czech Republic also was a very important match for two ambitious teams, and became the last match as well as the biggest drama of this round. The teams followed each other from the start, the scoreboard showing 0–0 after the first end and 1–1 after the third. Italy succeeded to score 2–0 with the hammer in the fourth end, but Czech republic hit back with 2–0 in the fifth. Still having the advantage from starting up with the hammer in the first end, Italy had chances for two but had to settle for one point in the sixth end. Italy apparently had a promising position during the seventh end, but an accurate last stone from the Czech Republic skip again equalized the score at 4–4. Eight end became very important as the Czech skip played a little to soft in his final stone, giving his Italian colleague the chance to reach a 6–4 lead with an accurate draw shot. This time the hard working Czech team failed to catch up, winning only 1–0 in the ninth end. Italy following this had a winning advantage with a one point lead and the hammer in the last end. Tension still was high for both teams, as both had only two minutes left on the clock to handle the remaining eight stones. Italy came under pressure as their second last stone, which should have been a fairly easy take out on this level, missed the target and just passed through the house. Czech Republic with 24 seconds left on the clock made the best out of it, leaving behind a stone in the house protected by the guard. All the pressure was upon the Italian skip Joel Retornaz – whom saved himself and the team by a brilliant draw shot, passing the Czech stones and parking in the center of the house. Both teams had two won and two lost matches after this round.
Third pass: Women´s Group A round 5
This fifth round somewhat strangely ended up with a situation in which there was no real doubts about the outcome in any of the matches one hour after they started. Scotland versus Estonia was the match between the team with a full score and one of the teams without a score so far. No one really expected that match to be exciting. Usually Estonia have started their matches fairly good, but today they stumbled out of the start blocks despite having the hammer. Scotland stole three points in the first end and two in the second, reaching an overwhelming 5–0 before Estonia got a 1–0 win in the third. Estonia actually did very well in the fourth end, stealing a point and reducing the deficit to 2–5. Scotland however made much better use of the hammer on the second attempt, for all practical purposes deciding the match by winning 3–0 in the fifth end. Down 3–10 after the seventh end, Estonia resigned. Obviously following the first two ends, the rest became a public transport travel which could hardly have been too exciting for any of the teams.
Curiously, the women team from Sweden played Switzerland a few hours after the Swedish men team – from almost the same situation and with almost the same result. The first three ends were tense, all of them finishing with a standard 1–0 win for the team playing the last stone. Sweden however had a great fourth end, increasing the pressure until having the best four stones before the last stone. As Switzerland´s final player fell for the pressure and failed on a difficult shot, Sweden stole three points and reached a winning 5–1 lead in the match. The fourth round disaster became decisive from a Suisse point if view, as the next two ends following heavyweight struggles gave one 1–0 win for each team. Despite a depressing 2–6 on the scoreboard, Switzerland succeeded to create some complications in the seventh end. Sweden however more important succeeded to reach an advantageous position. The final stone was a bit exciting as a lot of stones were still in play, leaving Anna Hasselborg under pressure to make a take out which could lead to all results in between a five point win and a two point loss for her team. Hasselborg found a very good practical solution as 2–0 in the match situatuion was a brilliant result. This was demonstrated when Switzerland immediately resigned the match.
The solid team from Germany entered the rink as clear favourites against the unlucky but still smiling team from Denmark. The match was more or less decided after half an hour: Denmark got only one point from their hammer in the first end, while Germany following a brilliant last stone from their skip won 4–0 in the second. Remarkably, this was a match in which the teams won four ends each, as all the ends were won by the team to set the last stone. Germany still ran all the more ahead as they all of the time won with a bigger margin than the Danish team. While Denmark had sound 1–0 wins in the third and fifth end, Germany won 2–0 in the fourth and the sixth. In the eight end Denmark finally succeeded to win more than one point, but even 2–0 was too little and too late from a starting point at 3–8 that late in the match. Up 8–5 with the hammer advantage, the Germans in the eight end understandably were only interested to play take outs or hit their stones through to keep the house open. As Denmark became too creative and/or desperate, the Germans still cashed in another 2–0 win. Down 5–10 before the two final ends, even the optimist Danish team had enough.
Having lost all their first five matches, both Estonia and Denmark now need to win matches soon not to end up in the Group B for next year´s championship. From my place at the back rank of the tribune I am truly impressed that both teams keep up their mood so well, despite all the lost matches and wasted chances.
Russia was a pretty clear favourite against Czech Republic, and also moved ahead early by winning 3–0 in the third end. The match was more or less decided as the Russians blundered on their last stone in the fourth end, allowing Russia to steal one more point and reach a 5–1 lead. The Czech team got a short lift as they won 1–0 in the fifth end, but then fell all the way down to the cellar floor as they made a last stone blunder in a demanding position during the sixth end. As Russia efficiently used the chance to win this end 4–0 and reach a seven point lead in the match, the Czech team very understandably decide to stop the clock.
Italy versus Turkey was an interesting duel between the two youngest skips in this field. Also, this was the most open match before the first stone was set. It was still considered fairly balanced when Italy came up 2–1 after the third end. The fourth end however more or less ended the struggle as Italy´s skip under pressure missed her last stone, while Turkey´s skip made a jackpot takeout – winning this end 5–0 for her team. Stealing another point in the next end, the young Turks midway had reached a relaxing 7–2 lead. The stubborn Italian fought on to the bitter end, but the Turks had it all under control as they were up 9–6 with the hammer at the start of the tenth end.
In short this round was not among the most exciting regarding the outcome of the matches, but still it was a very important round clearifying much of the situation in this round robin. Scotland will reach the semi final, Germany also is very close, and Sweden has recovered from their stumbling start. From what I have seen so far, I will be surprised if a list including those three teams plus Switzerland and Russia does not include all the four semi final teams, although Turkey remains an unpredictable outsider. Denmark and Estonia are lagging far behind the other teams, but still of course can save themselves with four rounds left to play. As 20 % of the teams will be degraded to the Group B, defending a place in the top groups is no walk in the park. The Women´s Group A might be somewhat more uneven, but still I am impressed by the level and find the matches here no less interesting to follow.
The women players in this group definitely deserves a bigger applaud, but some more spectators came in today and the Group B actually have had more spectators so far. This is very understandable from a home spectator point of view, as Norway in Group B are represented by a Lillehammer team with good chances to qualify for next year´s A Group.
Fourth pass: Men´s Group A round 5
While the fifth round in the women´s Group A was a very important round in which there was more or less no doubt about the outcome in all five matches after one hour, fifth round of the Men´s Group A was a very important round in which the outcome of all five matches remained open after two hours. I am aware that many fans of the Norwegian team were more satisfied after several earlier rounds. But I write this round report not as a fan of the Norwegian team, only as a fan of interesting curling matches. From that perspective, this firework fifth round for me was the highlight of this tournament so far.
Scotland again won by many points in the end, but the somewhat unpredictable German team turned out to be their most disturbing opponent so far. True enough, the start of the Scottish team again was more or less overwhelming. Starting with the hammer, they won 2–0 in the first end and succeeded to steal one point in the second as well as the third end. Again it was remarkable that the Scottish team made almost no mistakes themselves, while efficiently exploiting the mistakes of their opponents. Fourth end saw much better play from the Germans, and an effective last stone from their skip won two points. Scotland after getting the hammer immediately hit back with a 2–0 win in the fifth end, and at 6–2 still looked like an obvious winner in this match too. Sixth end however was a shock as the Scottish team made their most shaky performance so far in this championship, losing 0–3 after their skip Bruce Mouat made a blunder. Two more tense ends followed: Scotland won the sixth end with the hammer, but it was only 1–0 and the match still was exciting to follow with a 7–5 lead for Scotland. The Germans failed to use their hammer advantage in the eight end, but passed it over to the ninth. Scotland made it difficult for Germany in the ninth end and had the three best stones before the final stone. As Germany´s very talented young skip blundered in that situation, Scotland suddenly had a 10–5 lead before the last round. The outcome was expected, but Germany should be praised for their still improving form in this tournament.
Norway against Sweden probably was the main attraction for some 150 of the roughly estimated 200 spectators present from the start tonight. Sweden again had a lot of support from their fans, hence the sound was about balanced although Norway of course had more supporters. I guess this was some kind of revenge meeting from the World Championship, but I am a bit in doubt about how – as team Walstad won the internal match, while team Edin later won the gold medal. The first half of the match anyway was very tight and greedy, with many high quality stones from both sides.
The first end was an open position in which Sweden got nowhere and passed on their hammer advantage to the second end. Second end was a much more complex strategical mess in which Sweden in the end came very close to a 2–0 win. The control measurement concluded that Norway´s best stone was a hair or two better than Sweden´s second best stone. Norway after taking over the hammer equalised at 1–1 by an accurate draw shot in the third round. Sweden for the next two ends struggled to find a plan for more than one point, and decided to keep the hammer by a 0–0 score. Edin in the fifth end easily could have made a 1–0, but almost demonstratively he instead pushed his final stone through the house. This turned out to be a very good decision, but only following a very long and strategically complicated sixth end – leaving both teams with only 12 minutes left for the remaining four ends. With a lot of stones in the house, the position remained unclear until Edin by an absolutely brilliant final stone demonstrated a way to win in 3–0.
The match following this was considered more or less won for Sweden, especially as they climbed up to 5–1 on the scoreboard after stealing another point in the seventh end. The Norwegian team appeared a bit shaken, but despite time pressure hit back with a 2–0 win in the eight end. Sweden was under some pressure in a complex ninth end, but Edin by his last stone succeeded to win one more point and reach a more or less safe 6–3 lead before the tenth end. The match situation of course affected the plans then, as Sweden was willing to take even a 0–2 loss. In the final position Norway had the best stone, but no other stone left inside the house. Skip Steffen Walstad could have won 2–0 by a draw shot, but instead failed on a creative (if also a bit desperate) try to trick in 3–0. The sixth end drama was disasterous from a Norwegian point of view and a salvation from a Swedish point of view, in another very memorable and strategically complex battle.
Sweden in the heat of the battle even lost a player and had to reorganize their team, as their third player reportedly had to leave due to a defect shoe. We never have problems with defect shoes in chess tournaments, but reportedly the situation is very uncommon also in curling.
Italy versus Switzerland was another key match, for two teams short of points for a semi final. Switzerland had the hammer and won 1–0 in the first end. Both teams later managed one 2–0 win with the hammer, hence the score after four ends was 3–2 in favour of Switzerland. Italy then (with a very bad timing) developed some kind of hammer cramp: The fifth, sixth, eight and ninth end all were hard fought, but all ended up with a 0–0 score – while Switzerland snatched one more point as Italy blundered last stone in the seventh round. The ninth end gave Italy promising chances, but once more they failed to get a score out of it. At this late stage Italy for sure also preferred 2–4 with the last stone to 3–4 without it. Their hammer then suddenly started to work in the tenth end, as Switzerland somehow became too careful. Italy succeeded to equalize the score at 4–4 by a confident draw shot. Finally getting back the hammer for the first time since the fourth end, the Suisse team decided the match by an accurate handling of their final stone. This match lasted just above three hours, and saw a fascinating mixture of tactics and positional play from two inspired teams. Switzerland despite having lost three matches still is in the fight for a semi final following this tiny win, but will need many more wins to make it.
Finland versus the Netherlands was a key game for two teams fighting to save their place in the A Group. Netherlands got the hammer and made the best start with a 2–0 from the first end, but Finland hit harder back as they efficiently used the chance to steal three points in the third end. As the second, fourth and fifth end all were won 1–0 by the hammer team, Finland had a promising lead at 5–3 midway in the match. Desperately needing a win after losing all the first four matches, the Netherlands however fought on well and narrowed the lead to 4–5 in the sixth end. The finish of the seventh end might give the Finn players some nightmares for the next year if they lose the place in the group. The very experienced Finn skip blundered, allowing the Netherlands to steal two critical points and switch the scoreboard from 4–5 to 6–5. The Finns under growing pressure failed to use the hammer advantage in the eight end, and was forced to accept a 1–0 at the end of the ninth. Finland came up with counterplay in the tenth round and had a fairly good stone in the house before the final stone of the match. The young Dutch skip Wouter Gösgens still kept his nerves very well and saved a 7–6 win by an accurate draw shot – successfully passing the Finn stone to land exactly at the house center. Following this and other results from tonight, both these teams might be in trouble. The Dutch players however have now also won a match and they are still in the run for survival – which is always a better feeling in such situations.
Czech Republic versus Denmark was a curling match reminding me all the more about a tennis match. Most positions were open in this tense match, and none of the teams ever succeeded to steal a point or to win more than one point in any end. Consequently it was all about «holding the serve» by winning 1–0 when having the hammer. Starting up with the hammer gave Denmark a big plus during such circumstances. The first five ends all gave a 1–0 win for the hammer team. Not satisfied to continue like that forever, the Czech Republic in the sixth and seventh end kept the hammer by forcing 0–0 instead of winning 1–0, but in the eight round the Danish succeeded to force a 1–0 loss. Czech Republic in turn more or less forced the Danish team to take a 1–0 win in the ninth end, much preferring a 3–4 score with the hammer to a 3–3 score without it. The Danish players were able to create counterplay in the tenth end, and the Czech skip in the end had to find an accurate draw shot only to equalize the score at 4–4. Fairly illustrating for this match, the Danish team finally won 5–4 by winning 1–0 due to their last stone advantage in the eleventh round – following their first round hammer advantage. This match gave me something more to think about regarding the hammer rules in curling. More important at least from a Danish point of view, their entusiastic team after losing two rounds in a row now have won three matches in a row. Czech republic on the contrary now have lost three tight matches in a row after winning two tight matches in a row. Denmark can hope for a semi final, but they also have to fear the much less attrative Group B ticket.
There are remarkable similarities between the Men´s and Women´s tournament so far. Scotland still have won all their matches. So far that the only way to make a Scottish team losing at Lillehammer seems to be pairing them against each other. Sweden however steams upward following a slow start in both groups.
The round report again was finished after 03.00, but hopefully this also will improve as the playing schedule is a bit less demanding for the next days. I apologize for any mistakes caused by the late night work. If you have comments to make or improvements to suggest, you are welcome to reach me directly at email@example.com