What are the rules for mixed doubles curling?

Team Canada's John Morris (left) and Kaitlyn Lawes (right) in mixed doubles curling action at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

So, you’re watching mixed doubles curling for the first time in the Winter Olympics and wondering what’s going on?

We’ll admit, the rules can be confusing — especially when regular curling is tricky enough to figure out — but we don’t judge and are here to help.

While it’s played on the same kind of ice sheet and using identical equipment and rocks, there are some key differences from the traditional four-person team event. Here are the rules you need to know.

A brief history of mixed doubles curling

Mixed doubles curling started as part of the Continental Cup, a Ryder Cup-style tournament with Canada and the U.S. teaming up to take on the rest of the world.

A world mixed doubles curling championship has been held annually since 2008. Switzerland leads the way with six titles while Russia and Hungary have won two each. Canada has yet to win a world mixed doubles curling title with its best result being silver last year.

A total of 39 countries competed in the 2017 world mixed doubles curling championship as the sport has caught on globally. In 2015 it was announced mixed doubles curling had been added to the 2018 Winter Games schedule and make its Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Number of players

Each team consists of one male and one female player as oppose to four players of the same gender in the traditional game that we’ll see later in the Winter Olympics.

Number of rocks & scoring

Teams have six stones each although they actually only throw five of them.

The team with the hammer (throwing second in order) has one rock pre-positioned on the centre line behind the button in the house with one rock from the opposing team guarding it about a broom-length away from the top of the house in the free-guard zone.

Player one throws the first and last rocks while the second player delivers the middle three. The players can switch positions between ends.

The teams alternate throwing their rocks until all of them have been played.

Last-rock advantage, or the hammer, is determined by a draw-to-the-button shootout by all players prior to the start of the match.

After both teams have finished throwing their rocks, the team with the most rocks closer to the pin of the button (the centre of the house) than their opponent’s nearest rock scores a corresponding amount of points. This is the team with the hammer usually since they throw last, however, the team without the hammer can also “steal” points if the other team is unable to eliminate their closest rock(s).

Just one team can score per end and since each team only has six rocks, a maximum of six points can be scored in an end.

In regular curling, if there are no stones in the house upon the conclusion of an end, the end is considered a blank and the team with the hammer retains it for the next end. This does not happen in mixed doubles as a blank results in a loss of hammer, so even if the house is empty the team with the hammer will put their last rock in the house to settle for a single point.


When a rock is thrown, the second player can sweep the rock or remain the house to keep an eye on the path while the shooter gets up and sweeps the rock themselves.

Number of ends

Each period of play is called an end and mixed doubles curling is played to eight ends. Traditional curling in the Winter Olympics goes to 10 ends, although eight is commonplace on the World Curling Tour and the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.

If the score is tied after eight ends, an extra end is played.

With fewer rocks and ends, it makes for a much quicker pace. A mixed doubles curling game can be played in just over an hour as opposed to the 2.5-3 hours required for a 10-end traditional game.

Power play

Teams can call a power play once per game when they have the hammer. The power play shifts the pre-positioned rocks from the centre line to the edge of the eight-foot circle on the left or right side of the sheet with the opposing guard also moving over so it is aligned.

What’s the point of the power play? With most of the game being played down the middle of the ice, having a rock to the side makes it trickier to remove from the house, which often becomes a bonus point for teams. While it’s possible to score “short-handed” and steal an end, the power play has led to mostly scores of multiple points and has been a key ace in the pocket for teams later in the match to close the gap. Teams in the lead can also use it as a defensive measure to ensure they stay ahead.

The power play cannot be used in an extra end.

Four-rock rule?

The space outside the house from the tee line at the centre up to the nearest hog line (the horizontal line rocks must cross to remain in play) is called the free-guard zone. In traditional curling, rocks resting in this zone cannot be eliminated until four rocks have already been played (a.k.a. the four-rock rule).

If a team takes out a stone in the free-guard zone prior to the fifth rock, the shooter is removed from play while the stone that was hit is placed back at its previous spot before contact was made.

Mixed doubles curling also has a rock rule except it’s applied to all rocks in play, not just the stones in the free-guard zone. The pre-positioned rocks also fall under this rule and no takeouts can be performed until the fourth delivered rock.

Thinking time

This is the clock for each team you see in the background. Teams have a total of 22 minutes of thinking time over the course of the match, which ticks down while they decide what to do with their next shot.

If a team runs out of time, they will stop delivering stones for the rest of the eight-end game.

Thinking time clocks are reset to three minutes if an extra end is required regardless of how much time a team had remaining.

Comparison chart

Rule Mixed Doubles Traditional
Players 1 male & 1 female 4 of the same gender
Ends 8 10
Rocks per team per end 6 8
Rocks pre-positioned? Yes No
Power Play? Yes No
Rock rule First three rocks delivered cannot take out any stones from play First four rocks delivered cannot take out stones in the free-guard zone from play
Thinking Time? 22 minutes 38 minutes
Blank end Lose hammer Keep hammer

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