21: 2021 Men’s Worlds preview


It’s another world-class event at the Markin McPhail Centre in Calgary. This time it’s the Men’s World Championships which will run from Friday, April 2 to Sunday, April 11. Let’s do a preview.

The format: There are 14 teams which will play a full round robin. The top six make the single-elimination playoffs.

At stake: The winners get to declare themselves champions of the world. That sounds pretty awesome but I feel like the world championships are not quite as prestigious as a national championship. You win your national championship and you have bragging rights over your fellow curling citizens who you will see all the time over the next year. And you get to compete in worlds. You win the worlds and it’s not like you move on to play against the best curlers from Mars or Uranus. You get a medal and go back home, where you already have bragging rights anyway.

And that’s reflected in the structure of the event. While most national events have a rigorous format designed to identify the very best team, the worlds format is more open to an outsider winning, what with six of 13 teams making the playoffs. In practice, there’s not much hope for an upset. You can go all the way back to 1993 and see that Canada, Sweden, and Scotland have won every single title but one – Norway’s win in Beijing in 2014. However, prior to 2017, only the top four made the page playoff, a format that favors the very best teams much more than the current six-team playoff.

The simulation:

Rk   Rating  Team         Playoff  Title
 1   13.30   Bottcher CAN  96.7%   31.2%   
 2   13.26   Mouat SCO     96.3    29.6   
 9   12.66   De Cruz SUI   81.4    13.2   
12   12.46   Edin SWE      71.7     9.1   
     12.39   Shuster USA   68.3     7.9   
19   12.06   Matsumura JPN 48.1     3.4   
24   11.83   Retornaz ITA  34.5     1.7   
25   11.83   Walstad NOR   34.3     1.7   
     11.72   Jeong KOR     28.5     1.2   
36   11.38   Glukhov RUS   13.7     0.3   
38   11.35   van Dorp NED  12.9     0.3   
     11.18   Zou CHN        8.2     0.1   
54   10.98   Totzek GER     4.5     0.05   
77   10.53   Nørgård DEN    0.9     0.004

The favorites: The rather inclusive nature of the playoff round (at least relative to the Canadian championships) creates a bigger chance for a surprise. Bottcher and Mouat are the top two teams in my world ratings, but this comes with the usual pile of salt that there have been no cross-continent games for over a year now. And while there were a few events among European teams early in the season, Scottish teams did not leave home. So Mouat’s entire schedule has consisted of playing other Scottish teams. That’s great competition, of course, but it’s not particularly helpful when trying to rate Mouat relative to the rest of the world, which is obviously a pertinent exercise for this event.

John Shuster suffers from the same issue. Though perhaps even worse, as I haven’t included any of his random games against other American teams played at various clubs throughout Minnesota. As a result, Shuster doesn’t even appear in the top 100 due to a lack of games. (Although, he still has a rating that we can use in the simulations.)

One advantage of rating curling in a pandemic is that curlers don’t change skill very quickly. The age curve for curlers is pretty subtle, especially on the back end of a career. You didn’t need any more proof of that than Wayne Middaugh’s performance at the Brier after taking a five-year break from competitive curling. Not to mention suffering a major leg injury in that period.

So even though the ratings are a bit stale now that it’s been over 12 months since we’ve had frequent competitions, they’re still going to be pretty good. As a result, I think the pecking order of Bottcher/Mouat/de Cruz/Edin/Shuster shown in the odds table is correct with a significant drop-off after that.

I suspect if the average fan were to disagree with my order, they’d have Edin higher. The curling community has a romance with Edin that is easy to explain: His team has won four of the last seven worlds while finishing second in two others during that time.

But Team Edin hasn’t looked like a team that should be the first or second choice to win this event since winning the worlds in 2019. They went 5-10 against top ten teams last season. And Edin competed in three Swiss-based events this season, splitting his four matches with ninth-ranked De Cruz while losing his only game against 18th-ranked Yannick Schwaller. That was the extent of his competition against top 25 teams, but he also lost to two lesser Swiss outfits, including a shutout loss to Bjorn Jungen in Champery.

The playoff chances for the top five teams sum to 4.1, which means it’s not out of the question that one of those teams ends up being eliminated in round-robin play. The conditions and circumstances in Calgary will be better than they were in Switzerland, but the chances of a lackluster event for Edin are better than is commonly thought.

Finally, I’d make Team Bottcher a slightly bigger favorite than shown here. Obviously, there’s not a home crowd and being in a bubble figures to subdue the typical advantages of playing near home, but just being in the same time zone as your friends and family has to be worth something. In addition, Team Bottcher has more familiarity with the bubble than any other team. Also, he’s already played a competition with life-changing consequences. And Brendan Bottcher’s participation in the Canadian mixed doubles championships last week has kept his game in shape.

Odds Oddities: I’d be remiss if I did not pat myself on the back for identifying Bottcher as undervalued in the Brier. Combine that with the pick of Homan in the Scotties and we are off to a credible start of using my model to find the soft betting lines.

Futures were finally posted on Wednesday by Coolbet with Sports Interaction following shortly after that. Coolbet is offering better prices on the favorites, so let’s look at their odds for the Big Five and a surprising interloper as of Wednesday afternoon:

Canada         +150
Sweden         +175
Scotland       +350
Switzerland   +1000
United States +2000
Japan         +2000

Let’s start with Sweden, where as mentioned, Nik Edin’s rink has not played like a top team in the world for 18 months now. If you think he’s been sandbagging or just plain not motivated and he’s going to return to form this week, that’s a reasonable position. But I’m going to have to move this discussion forward without you.

(3/31 8:20 PM MST: Somewhere between my notes, which had Matsumura representing Japan, and my running simulations, a glitch occurred where I erroneously replaced him with Morozumi. Thus the following paragraph is, uh, mostly garbage. The simulations above have been updated to reflect the correct numbers for Japan, which only changed chances for other countries in small ways.)

In addition to Sweden being overvalued, I’m not sure where the love for Japan and Team Morozumi is coming from. I have Morozumi’s record last season at 25-21 with just 11 of those games against top 25 competition. Who knows what they’ve been up to over the last few months. They obviously won the Japanese championship, so perhaps they’re a little better than their ranking of 58th at the end of last season. I have them about 38th which seems totally reasonable. At least with Sweden, you can understand overrating the team that has won the last two Worlds, but I can’t tell you what’s going on with Japan.

This opens up some value for the rest of the top five. Personally, I’d back Scotland, who opened at +300 and have risen to +350 for the moment, implying a 22% chance of a title which is significantly lower that the 30% from the simulations. While I do think Canada is the clear favorite here due to the bubble experience and the recent competitions against the best teams in the world, Team Mouat has been tuning up on solid competition in his home country. I’m pretty confident he has the second-best squad in this event.

Switerland and the United States also have substantial value relative to the simulations. The problem with the U.S. is that Team Shuster has probably had the least amount of reps against top competition heading into the event. Still, if there’s a theme with these odds, it’s that the oddsmakers aren’t quite respecting the six-game playoff enough. The simulations gives the U.S. a 7.9% chance while the odds imply a 4.8% break-even point, so even considering a bit of overrating on my part, there’s still value there.

And Team de Cruz could be the third-best team in the event. They reeled off 16 consecutive wins at one point in the fall. This included four wins over either Edin or the reigning Swiss champs, Team Schwaller, each of which ended in virtual handshakes before the seventh end. And de Cruz has finished third in this event in each of his previous three appearances.

A Scotland/Switerland/U.S. package here as a “no” bet on Sweden and Japan seems like the way to go.