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SOCHI, Russia - Do you make a curling a must-see Olympic event despite failing to, well, totally understand its rules? (You're not alone.)

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We're here to help. The U.S. men and women open Olympic play Monday at the Ice Cube Curling Center with the first of nine matches in the event's round-robin portion. The top four finishers at the conclusion of the round robin then advance to the medal tournament, which runs on a bracket style, with the losers of the semifinals competing for bronze and the winners advancing to play for gold.

The basic idea - one familiar to shuffleboard-playing retirees, perhaps - is to finish with the stone closest to the "button," the center of the target rings at the end of each curling lane. That's more difficult than it sounds, since an opponent will attempt to knock its rival's stones away from the target area or create a roadblock with its own stones. Strategy and technique rule the day.

Each team includes four players: a skip, typically the team's best curler and lead strategist; a lead, typically the strongest sweeper; a second, who works closely with the lead in setting up the early strategy; and a third, who often has the important task of setting up stones for the "hammer," the final stone thrown in each end.

The four players will throw two stones apiece over an eight-end match, with the skip handling the last pair. If all goes according to plan, the skip's final stone will land dead in the middle of the button.

So, in short: Like in shuffleboard or bocce ball, get your stone closest to the bull's-eye. Does that help?

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