What is the Hammer in Curling?

Curling is one of the most popular winter sports in the UK, especially in Scotland, and enjoys a loyal following, though more casual fans struggle with some of the sport’s terminology.

When watching a game of curling unfold on television, the commentator will often talk about one side having the hammer. To have the hammer in curling is to have the advantage of throwing the final stone of an end.

Unless you are familiar with the rules of curling, you may not immediately grasp why throwing last is an advantage when in other sports, such as tennis, the advantage is with the player(s) serving. Allow us to explain.

Rules of Curling

Curling is an extremely tactical game that is exceptionally difficult to master. Players slide stones along the ice towards a target, known as the house. The object of the game is simple – have your stones land closer to the house than your opponent.

Each team, made up of four players, has eight stones to play delivered in order by the designated lead, second, third, and captain (skip) making the final two deliveries. The team with the hammer, throwing second, therefore has the advantage as they can use their stone to knock their opponent’s out of the way of the target.

A match is played over 10 ends (rounds), or eight if playing mixed doubles. Unlike in sports such as tennis, where players swap service after each game, the hammer is given to the loser of the previous end. In the event of a no-score end, the hammer is retained.

Tactical Use of the Hammer in Curling

As the losing team in one end is given the advantage of the hammer in the next, this makes teams play tactically. Teams may have a decision as to whether to play for a single point or choose to retain the hammer in search of a higher score in the next end.

For example, if a team is down by three points with two ends remaining, rather than take a one-point win in the end and hand the advantage of the hammer to the other team, they may let the stone run for a draw. Therefore, the losing team retains the hammer going into the next end, giving them the advantage and a higher chance of scoring heavily than they would against the hammer.

Equally, when a team is in the ascendancy and has hold of the hammer the skip may decide to play conservatively and retain the advantage, thus trying to shut out the opponents.

What is a Steal in Curling?

You may come across the term ‘steal’ in curling, which is when a team wins a point without the hammer. Such is the advantage of having the hammer in an end, a steal is significant as teams generally attempt to keep the side with the final stone down to just one point – keeping scoring to a minimum whilst also regaining the hammer.

Quite simply, the more you can steal against the hammer, the more likely your team is to win the match. Stealing increases the pressure on the team with the hammer to score more than one point with the advantage, making the most of the hammer before relinquishing it back.

You may hear terms such as ‘steal efficiency’ and ‘steal defence efficiency’ in curling, which is effectively how frequent a team can steal from their opponents and deny their opponents stealing from them.

To summarize, the hammer in curling is the advantage that one side has in throwing the final stone. The loser of the previous end is given the hammer in the next end unless there has been no score and then the hammer is retained by the team that had the hammer. Scoring when not in possession of the hammer is called a steal.

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