24: Women’s worlds preview


It’s one more go for the curling bubble. This time it’s the World Women’s Curling Championships. It runs from Friday, April 30 to Sunday, May 9. If you’re the sentimental type, soak it in. We hope it’s the last major event without fans for a long time.

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

At stake: You’re the world’s champs. Drop-in fees are waived at every curling club in the world for the next 12 months. The playoff teams get Olympics berths for their respective countries.

The simulations:

Rk  Rating  Team           Playoff  Title 
 1  14.24   Einarson CAN    96.1%   29.3%  
 3  13.98   Hasselborg SWE  92.1    21.5  
 4  13.84   Tirinzoni SUI   88.9    17.9  
 5  13.61   Kovaleva RUS    81.9    12.9  
 8  13.40   Muirhead SCO    72.9     8.7  
 9  13.22   Kim KOR         63.6     5.9  
14  12.86   Peterson USA    42.7     2.3  
21  12.50   Yoshimura JPN   23.8     0.7  
    12.45   Han CHN         21.5     0.6  
    12.27   Jentsch GER     14.7     0.3  
    11.40   Kubeskova CZE    1.1     0.004  
    11.20   Constantini ITA  0.5     0.001  
    10.86   Dupont DEN       0.1     0.0001  
    10.80   Turmann EST      0.08    0.0001

The top of the women’s curling world is more diverse than the men’s side. There are 7 different countries represented among the doubletakeout.com top 10 teams. Theoretically, that should make for a more open event than the men’s worlds, but the fact that the top three teams are so good mitigates this idea to a large extent.

Team Einarson is the obvious favorite after posting a 10-2 record in the two Grand Slam events in the bubble. That included winning the Players’ Championship by beating 2nd-ranked Rachel Homan in the final. Einarson’s performance this season resembles that of the best team in the world. Her four defeats in 27 games have been to Homan (twice), fourth-ranked Tirinzoni, and tenth-ranked Jennifer Jones. On some level, it seems impossible that Canada would not win.

But as the late Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver once said, momentum is only as good as the next game’s starting pitcher. Well, Jorge Lopez is starting today for the Orioles and he has an 8.15 ERA, so momentum is a +160 underdog. Anyway, Team Einarson is not a bunch of curling robots. They are fallible people who can lose to other great teams on occasion. Clearly the best team here, but not robots.

To that point, a month ago anyone would have made Team Hasselborg the favorite, but after an 0-4 effort in the first bubble slam, many recalibrated their expectations of the champs from Sweden. Hasselborg dominated round-robin play in the 2019 worlds. Despite falling in the final to the Swiss, that run propelled her team on to a dominant run through the 2019-20 season. There is no doubt they can play at a world-champion level.

Switzerland is again led by Silvana Tirinzoni who skipped the gold-medal team in 2019. Team Tirinzoni is defending their title in a technical sense as Elena Stern was set to represent Switzerland in last year’s cancelled event. But Tirinzoni is back, having beaten Stern eight consecutive times in Swiss national competitions, including three straight in a best-of-five series to qualify for worlds. (For good measure, Tirinzoni extended her Stern streak to nine with a win over her Swiss rivals in the Players’ Championship last week.)

The top three are nearly locks to make the playoff round. As far as the other three spots, my ratings continue to be higher on Alina Kovaleva than the betting markets. The team representing the curling-federation-that-shall-not-be-named went 5-6 at the slams but didn’t lose a game to a team ranked worse than 8th in my ratings. And guess what? Nine of their 13 opponents here will be ranked worse than 8th.

Both Scotland, led as always by Eve Muirhead, and Korea, skipped by Eun-Jung Kim, seem to be safe playoff choices as well. Muirhead was an unimpressive 3-7 in the slams, but the field here is weaker and she’ll be a significant favorite in most of her games.

Kim defeated both #13 Min-Ji Kim and #17 Un-Chi Gim a combined four times without a loss to win the right to represent Korea. Kim finished first in round-robin play in the 2018 Olympics and was the 11th-ranked team in the world at the end of that season. Kim was then largely driven away from competitive curling by a corrupt and abusive coaching staff. Now she’s back and certainly could be a factor here.

That’s 6 teams and there are only 6 playoff spots, but there’s still room for an interloper or two. If we take the product of the Super 6’s chances of making the playoffs, there’s just a 31% chance they all make it. There are 4 other teams with legitimate hopes of crashing the playoff party: the U.S., China, Japan, and Germany.

The U.S. and China have the most upside among this group. Team Peterson did not pick up where it left off pre-pandemic and lost 8 of 9 games in the slams. I’ve had to go from declaring them an outside threat to win world’s to accepting there’s a real possibility they have to go through the Olympic Qualification Event to make the Olympics. There is nothing really to worry about – they’d be strong favorites to win that event if need be. But this week will be filled with suspense and tension as we find out whether they need to travel to a yet-to-be-determined location in December to make the Olympic berth official.

China, on the other hand, has an Olympic berth in hand being the host nation and all. They are skipped by Han Yu. Han played a global schedule last season but largely struggled against top teams, going 8-15 against the top 25, with just 3 of those games against the top 10. She has not played in an actual competitive event this season. Many believe that the 20-year-old will eventually be someone who competes for world titles. Maybe this will be her coming out party.

Japan might be the only nation not sending its best team as Team Fujisawa heads home after a 6-6 mark in the slams. In comes Team Yoshimura, whose only competitive results come from the Japanese Championship, where they actually lost to Fujisawa two out of three times, but pulled off a stunner in the title game to earn the berth.

Finally, two members of the German team had positive COVID tests entering the bubble this week and thus Germany will have to go with three players to start the event, assuming the team is cleared to play. It is not known which players tested positive and that’s a pretty important detail to assess how the team’s chances are affected. Being reduced to three players is not much of an issue itself – especially if the full roster is available later in the week – but the lack of pre-event practice might hurt given that the team doesn’t have much margin for error.

The bottom third of the field is playing for a future movie script, as any of them would be defying enormous odds by earning an Olympic berth here. Estonia, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Italy collectively took gold in 57 of the one million simulations on my laptop. That includes just one from Denmark. However, skip Madeleine Dupont did beat Rachel Homan at the 2018 Olympics, so it’s fair to say this group will play a role in spoiling somebody else’s immediate Olympic dreams even if a playoff berth for any of them would be a Cinderella story of epic proportions.

Odds Oddities: For the third consecutive week, Alina Kovaleva (+900) has the most value when comparing the odds at CoolBet.com to my simulations. In fact, the team representing The Federation is the only one that has value. Kovaleva has done just enough the last two weeks to not drop much in my ratings while also not doing too much to impress oddsmakers.

Team Canada goes off at a whopping +140, implying a 41.7% break-even point for winning the title. It’s even worse at SportsInteraction where Einarson is -118 and the break-even point is 54.1%. We’d take the bold play of a “No” bet on Canada if one were offered despite the seeming inescapable momentum of Team Einarson. Earl Weaver knew what he was talking about.