ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Every four years the Winter Olympics comes around and reunites America with our favorite guilty pleasure — curling.
The sport captivates audiences with its sweeping, stones, screams, and strategy. Back in 2018, the curling craze took on a new level when the USA Men’s Curling Team shocked the world by winning gold. John Shuster and company racked up a series of upsets against the powerhouse’s from across the globe to become the unlikeliest stars of the Olympics.
If you’re anything like me, you can’t get enough of curling. So why not lean into the sport a little bit further by playing an invention of my own — fantasy curling.
Yes, that’s right. Fantasy curling. Before the 2014 Olympics, I gathered a few of my friends who like the sport (not quite much as myself) and invented what is, to my knowledge, the first organized fantasy curling league. Since then, I’ve expanded the game to include the World Championships to continue the fun on an annual basis.
It’s simple and easy to play and now I’m sharing the game with you. How easy is it to pick up? Apparently exceptionally easy. All of my friends keep beating me and I have never won my own creation.
Editor’s note: With mixed doubles curling already underway, this section has been adjusted to describe the ideal rules for playing with just the men’s and women’s events.
First, you’ll need to find some people to play with you. You’ll want five people in your league to play with the men’s and women’s tournaments, You’ll see later why the number of participants is important.
The men’s and women’s events don’t begin until Wednesday, February 2nd on the East Coast, so you still have a bit of time to start your league.
Each participant will draft four teams in a standard snake draft. Since you’ll be running the draft yourself, you can either do it in-person, virtually, or slow draft style. In a slow draft, you would start a group chat or Facebook group and each person would pick on their turn whenever they have the chance to make a pick.
The scoring is simple. If your team wins gold, you get four points. If they earn silver, you get three points. You get two points for bronze and one point for 4th place.
You will be picking teams across both competitions in one combined draft. Theoretically, your four teams could include both the men’s and women’s teams from the United States.
The tiebreaker for fantasy owners with an identical amount of points when the medals are decided is the combined round-robin record for all four of the nations on your squad. If that’s also even, then compare the record for the best three countries and so on until there’s a winner.
That’s why the number of participants in your league is important. With the scoring settings outlined and the correct number of people in your league, if everyone drafts “correctly” you should end up with a tie. Feel free to have more or fewer people in your league and adjust the number of teams drafted, but people could be at a significant advantage based on draft position alone.
Don’t know who to draft? We’ve brought in an expert.
Many of you might be familiar with the name Ken Pomeroy as the analytics whiz who helped revolutionize the way we look at college basketball.
The “KenPom” ranking of a team is just as likely to be cited on their resume as points scored or their record in road games.
As it turns out, Pomeroy is also a big curling fan. He started playing the sport around eight or nine years ago. When the lockdown hit in 2020, he was able to bring his analytic knowledge into the sport by creating a website called DoubleTakeout.com.
The website ranks all of the major teams in the world, provides forecasts for major events, and has columns about the strategy of the sport. I was able to interview Pomeroy and have him share his insight into this year’s competition.
You can listen to the full interview in the video above. Highlights include:
- 0:00-3:08-Ken discusses how he got involved playing and analyzing curling
- 3:08-9:00- AJ and Ken preview the men’s tournament, which features two heavy hitters.
- 9:00-16:00- We take a look at the women’s field which could be anyone’s to win
- 16:00-17:50- Ken highlights the uncertainly of mixed doubles curling and shares his thoughts on the field
- 17:50-24:49- Ken shares his draft strategy for fantasy curling
There are ten teams in each of the events. The above spreadsheet lists the country, the skip (the leader of the team), Pomeroy’s ranking of the teams, his forecast‘s percentages to win the event and make the playoffs, as well as the Vegas odds to win. Yes, there is gambling on curling. These lines are courtesy of Bovada. ROC is the Russian Olympic Committee.
Last year’s men’s champions, Team USA, were only given about a three or four percent chance to win in Pomeroy’s forecast in 2018. However, it shouldn’t be a complete shock that they won.
“It obviously was a huge upset,” said Pomeroy. “Still, teams like that do win every once and a while. If you can get yourself into an event with a decent chance to win, you shouldn’t give up hope. You really do have a chance to win that event.”
Pomeroy actually rates the Americans as a better team than in 2018, but he gives them a similar chance to win due to the better strength of the field. Four of his top six teams are in this year’s Olympics.
“The top-two teams in this field, Canada and Great Britain, are significantly stronger than your normal top-rated curling teams,” says Pomeroy.
Team Canada has struggled on the world stage lately with a 5th place finish at the 2021 World Championships and a 4th place finish at the 2018 Olympics. This year could change that. The team is led by Brad Gushue who won Olympic gold in 2006.
“They’ve clearly been the best team in Canadian curling over the last four years. They really don’t lose to weaker teams,” said Pomeroy. “It’s really one of the best teams that Canada has fielded in 15 or 20 years.”
They’ll be tested by Great Britain, skipped by Bruce Mouat. Mouat led Scotland to an impressive second-place finish at the 2021 Worlds.
“Honestly, if you wanted to really prove who’s the best team in curling was in the world, you would probably just have a seven-game series between those two teams because they’ve clearly proven they’re head and shoulders above everybody else,” said Pomeroy.
You also can’t forget about Niklas Edin and Sweden, who have won the last two World Championships and took silver in 2018. Pomeroy gives the Swedes just over an eleven percent chance to win, though that might be underselling their odds.
“The one issue with them in my ratings is that they typically tend to perform better on the world stage than they do in random bonspiels in Switzerland,” said Pomeroy. “I do think they’re clearly the third-best team. You certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it.”
The first thing that might jump out is that powerhouse Canada is given the 8th-best chance to win by Pomeroy’s rankings. Jennifer Jones, the 2014 Olympic champion, brings plenty of experience, but actually pulled off quite an upset in the Canadian trials to earn her team’s Olympic berth. They’re given the second-best odds to win by Vegas, but that can be attributed to their name recognition.
The other item easily noticed is the lack of clear favorites at the top compared to the men.
“This field is definitely more even, more level,” said Pomeroy. “It’s wide-open. Almost anybody that wins, it’s going to be unexpected because the chances of any team winning in this event are so low.”
Pomeroy’s favorite, team Switzerland, won the last two World Championships. However, Silvana Tirinzoni’s squad is given just the fourth-best odds by Vegas to win gold.
Team Sweden won gold in 2018 and is given the second-best chance to win by Pomeroy.
“At their peak, their ceiling is probably higher than Team Switzerland, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” said Pomeroy. “It certainly doesn’t offend me if people think Team Sweden is the favorite.”
Teams two through eight in Pomeroy’s forecast have similar odds, including Team USA. America has never won a medal in women’s curling, but Tabitha Peterson was able to secure a bronze medal at the 2021 World Championships.
“They don’t get a lot of publicity in international curling but you look at the track record of the team led by Tabitha Peterson, they’ve been very, very good. A world-class team,” said Pomeroy. “A real legitimate chance of getting a medal and I’m looking forward to what they do on the international stage because I think they’ve proven over the last couple of years they can play with these top-ten teams.”
Mixed Doubles Tournament
Mixed doubles is still relatively new to the Olympic curling stage. This will be the second time the event has been held.
There are two curlers on each team. Listed are the Vegas odds, this time provided by Pinnacle, and the World Curling Country rankings.
Pomeroy has not developed a ranking system for mixed doubles, thanks to a variety of factors that makes it challenging to get a grasp on the teams.
“It is a challenge. There are some teams that are dedicated teams, mostly in Europe,” said Pomeroy. “The teams in North America are kind of these ad-hoc teams that come together for random events. Pretty difficult to come up with a rating system for that.”
Team Canada won gold in 2018 and John Morris returns to defend his title, this time joined by Rachel Homan.
“I assume the favorites would be Canada with Morris and Homan. Two of the best curlers in the world coming together, you’re probably going to have the best team,” said Pomeroy.
“They’re probably a strong favorite, maybe even a stronger favorite than any in the four-person events would be,” he added.
Great Britain is actually listed as the favorite by Pinnacle. However, the only lines I was able to find were from the European site, so you have to consider the bias.
The draft strategy for fantasy curling is a lot like most other fantasy sports.
It’s tough to win the draft with your first round pick, but you can certainly lose it. With your first selection, you want to try and guarantee at least three points by picking a team that gets into the gold medal match.
“I think the safest bets are on the men’s side with Canada or Great Britain,” said Ken Pomeroy. “There are no real locks in curling. In any individual event, upsets can occur. The Olympic format kind of promotes that with a single-elimination, four-team playoff.”
“There are no locks but those two teams, relative to the field, I think are clearly the top choices,” he adds. “Pick whatever country you want to root for.”
Your second round pick is probably your most important. You need a team with a solid chance to win a medal and upside to make it gold or silver.
“I think the women’s side is flush with those kinds of teams,” said Pomeroy.
He cites Team Great Britain and the Russian Olympic Committee squad as picks that could strike gold.
Your final pick is a flier that might earn a spot in the medal round but at the very least will not kill your round-robin record for a potential tiebreaker.
The South Korean women were that squad in 2018, earning silver. Pomeroy could see a repeat performance this time around from the same group led by Kim Eun-jung.
“They played some events in Canada this year so they clearly prepared for the Olympics in a way that maybe some other international teams did not in terms of making the trip to North America and playing against some of the best teams,” said Pomeroy. “I have them as an 8.2% chance which is virtually tied for sixth in the field. That doesn’t sound like much, but again, the field is wide open.”
The mixed doubles field could also feature plenty of upsets due to the unknowns of the tournament and the unpredictability of the format itself.
So there you have it, fantasy curling. I hope you enjoy getting up at strange hours to watch and have as much fun playing it as I do. By the way, if you need a schedule to watch all of the action, there’s a curling podcast that I enjoy listening to called Rock Across the Pond. It has created a great schedule set up with American time zones. You can see that spreadsheet here.