Leisure boules vs competition boules – when did the distinction begin?

When did people first start distinguishing between leisure boules and competition boules?

It seems to me that it must have begun when the requirements for competition boules were first codified. As the requirement for boules were gradually written down and refined, boule manufacturers must have began to distinguish between their models of boules that met those requirements (“competition” boules) and their models of boules that didn’t meet all of those requirements but were functionally similar and less expensive (“leisure” boules). Assuming that this is what happened, our question turns into a slightly different question— When did the idea of certified “competition” boules first emerge?

Based on our historical archive of the versions of the rules of the game of petanque, the answer appears to be that happened between 1962 and 1974.

  • In 1962 the FIPJP (international) rules first required boules to be certified (agréées) by the the FIPJP.
  • In 1964 the FFPJP (French national) rules first required boules to be “agréées par Sa Fédération”.
  • In 1970 the French national rules first required boules to be stamped with the boule’s weight.
  • In 1974, the French national rules first required boules to be stamped with the manufacturer’s mark.

In 1984, the French national rules were adopted as the FIPJP international rules, and most national federations adopted the FIPJP rules, unchanged, as their national rules. That’s how we got the rules that we have today.

Interestingly, the requirement that competition boules be stamped with the IDs of the boule’s model and set aren’t in the rules of the game. They are in the FIPJP document called Requirements for the Certification of Competition Petanque Boules. Unfortunately, I have no way to trace the history history of that document.

THE BOTTOM LINE
If I had to pick a specific year for when the distinction between leisure boules and competition boules first completely emerged, I’d pick 1974. That was the year when the French national rules first required all of the three things that the international rules now require— (1) that boules be certified, (2) that boules be stamped with the boule’s weight, and (3) that boules be stamped with the manufacturer’s mark.


Frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque

When you’re looking for an answer to a question—
— FIRST find out if the answer is already available on the web.

For frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque—
— See our page of FAQs.
— See our posts tagged as FAQs.

For “umpire questions”—
— Search our posts for Article 35.
— Search our posts for collective (penalty/ yellow card/ orange card).

Search our pages and posts for any term.

 

If you still can’t find an answer to your question, you can—
— post your question on Facebook Petanque Q&A forum
— post your question on Facebook “Ask the Umpire” forum

 


A different way to think about obstacles

Now that the FIPJP rules allow us to throw the jack right up to a side dead-ball line, I’m afraid we’ll never see the end of questions about whether a wooden surround is a pointing obstacle. All we can do is try to develop a clear answer to the question. Here is my latest effort.

The FIPJP rules define two types of obstacles— throwing obstacles and pointing obstacles. The FIPJP rules specify that the throwing circle must be placed a certain minimum distance from any throwing obstacle, and the thrown (or placed) jack must be placed a certain minimum distance from any pointing obstacle.

Naturally, this focusses our attention on potential obstacles, and we tend to think about these rules in terms of distances from the obstacle.

I think that it would be more effective to stop thinking about obstacles, and instead focus our attention on the the jack and the throwing circle. Rather than thinking about distances from obstacles, we should think in terms of obstacle-free zones around the circle and the jack.

The purpose of the rule about throwing obstacles is to establish an obstacle-free area around the circle so that a player, standing in the center of that zone, can throw a boule without danger of hitting a physical object that might injure his (or her) throwing hand. Basically, a throwing obstacle is a physical object that might hurt the player if it is too close to him (or her). That’s why the rule says that no such objects are permitted in the area around the player, i.e. in the obstacle-free zone around the circle.

The purpose of the rule about pointing obstacles is to establish an obstacle-free area around the jack so that there is no object that might physically prevent a boule from being pointed close to the jack. Basically, a pointing obstacle is a physical object that prevents a boule from being pointed close to the jack. That’s why the rule says that no such objects are permitted in the obstacle-free zone around the jack.

It’s as simple as that.



Using this point of view, let’s look at a question that came up recently on “Ask the Umpire”.

A boundary string separates lane A and lane B. There is a tree in lane B, close to the boundary string. Is it a pointing obstacle for lane A?

The answer is YES… in the following sense. If the jack is thrown out onto lane A, and if (when the jack comes to rest) the tree is inside the jack’s obstacle-free zone, then the tree is indeed a pointing obstacle. In that case, the thrown jack is not valid.

This answer assumes that boules from lane A can roll into lane B without dying, so the obstacle-free zone around the jack extends across the string and into lane B. But what if it is a time-limited game, and the boundary string is also a dead-ball line?

In that case, the jack’s obstacle-free zone extends only 8cm into lane B. If the tree is more than 8cm away from the dead-ball line, it is not within the jack’s obstacle-free zone. That means that the jack can be thrown right next to the dead-ball line and still be valid.

What is so magical about the 8cm distance? The maximum legal diameter of a boule is 8cm. As in the diagram (above), a boule can almost completely cross a dead-ball line and still be alive. But if it rolls any farther, it will die. That means that any object that is more than 8cm outside the dead-ball line can never be a pointing obstacle for a live boule. Any boule that reached it would be DOA: dead on arrival.

Conversely, a tree that is less than 8cm from the dead-ball line could be in the jack’s obstacle-free zone.


Since no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time, the tree really could be a pointing obstacle. In this diagram (below) we see that the tree really could prevent a live boule from entering part of the obstacle-free zone around the jack. That’s why in this case the thrown jack is invalid.


Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle?

Our terrain is marked by dead-ball strings and enclosed by a wooden surround (boule-stop). Is the wooden surround a pointing obstacle?

The answer is exactly the same for the wooden surround as it was for the tree.  A wooden surround that is less than 8cm from the dead-ball string can stop a live boule. So if the wooden surround is less than 8cm from the dead-ball string and less than 50cm from the thrown jack (i.e. inside the jack’s obstacle-free zone) the thrown jack is not valid. This is why a dead-ball string should always be installed more than 8cm from a wooden surround. The recommended minimum distance is 30cm.


Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle when there is no dead-ball string?

Our terrain is enclosed by a wooden surround, but we have no dead-ball strings. Is the wooden surround considered to be a pointing obstacle?

YES. It is a pointing obstacle, and a thrown or placed jack must be at least 50cm from the wooden surround. Note, however, that because there are no dead-ball strings on your terrain, you are not playing by FIPJP rules— you are playing by your own local rules. You should adopt whatever local rule is agreeable to the two teams.


Challenging the jack

After reading a recent question on “Ask the Umpire” I’ve been thinking about the notion of challenging the jack. I’ve come to the conclusion that the notion of challenging the jack is completely bogus and we should stop using it.

The rule about challenging the jack is brief and cryptic. Article 7 lists the requirements for a thrown jack to be valid, but it doesn’t describe any procedures for determining whether or not the jack meets those requirements. In the next article, Article 8, we find this

If after the throwing of the jack, a first boule is played, the opponent still has the right to challenge (a encore le droit de contester) the validity of its position…. [But] If the opponent has also played a boule…. no objection is admissible.


If you read the rules carefully, you will notice that the rules never explicitly say that Team A, before it plays its first boule, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity. Article 8, however, assumes that Team A can do that, and Article 8’s concern is to make it clear that Team B may do the same thing— measure the jack to verify its validity before playing its first boule. If we combine what Article 8 says with what it assumes, the rule that we get is this.

Each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack—that is, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity.


The FIPJP rule as it currently stands is so obfuscated by bad writing and poor vocabulary choices (“challenge the jack”, “objection”) that it confuses both players and umpires. Questions are asked. After Team A has thrown the jack, while one of its players is standing in the circle and ready to throw the first boule, can Team B challenge the jack? If not, why not? If so, what is the correct procedure for doing it? If Team B challenges the jack, can Team A simply ignore the challenge?

All of these questions surfaced again recently, when Allen Cassady posted a question on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group. Here is a lightly-edited version of that post.

Albert, a player on Team A, throws the jack and then waits in the circle while a teammate marks the jack. During this pause, Bob, a player on Team B, says “the jack is too long.” (Bob did not measure or pace off the throw, not wanting to violate the Article 17 rule that “the opponents must not walk, gesticulate, or do anything that could disturb the player about to play.” He simply thought the jack was obviously too long and said so.)

Question #1. May Albert ignore Bob’s comment and proceed to throw his boule? Or, knowing that there is a disagreement as to the validity of the jack, must he stop and let the two teams measure the jack?

Question #2. Should the umpire warn/penalize Bob for violating the first sentence of Article 17, which requires players and spectators to observe total silence before a player plays his boule?


With respect to question #1, international umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was—

It would be in the best interest for Team A to check the validity of the jack before they throw their first boule, especially as Team B are already challenging its position. But your question is— Could Team A go ahead and play their first boule? The answer is YES.

Note that Mike describes Bob’s action as “challenging [the jack’s] position”, but then he says that Albert may ignore Bob’s “challenge”! But… surely if the idea of a right to bring a challenge is a meaningful one, a lawful challenge cannot simply be ignored. That’s why I suspect that Mike regards Bob’s comment simply as a casual remark, and not as a formal challenge. And I suspect that Mike’s answer accurately reflects the meaning and intent of Article 8. And I suspect that Article 8 contains nothing at all like a concept of formally challenging the jack.

If you accept the idea that Article 8 is trying to say that each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack, then the concept of “challenging the jack” simply drops out of the rules. And as it disappears it takes along with it all of the questions that it spawned. It becomes clear, for example, that Mike was right. Albert can ignore Bob’s comment, because there is no such thing in the FIPJP rules as formally challenging the jack. Bob’s casual remark was just that: a casual remark.

With respect to question #2 (Should the umpire warn/penalize Bob for violating the Article 17 rule requiring players and spectators to observe total silence before a player plays his boule?), note that the umpire’s job is to apply the rules appropriately, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each particular situation. In one set of circumstances, an umpire might think it appropriate to give Bob a yellow card. In another set of circumstances, he might not. In this particular case, Mike has no problem with Bob voicing his thoughts; Mike even thinks it was helpful to Team A. A yellow card is not appropriate in this case.

The bottom line is that Article 8 is badly written and misleading. The concept of challenging the jack is not a useful way of understanding Article 8, and we should stop using it. The rule (or if you prefer, the rule interpretation) that we should use is this.

Each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack— that is, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity.

Four-boule singles

When I watch petanque singles matches on Youtube, or play singles myself, I always find myself feeling vaguely dissatisfied. It feels like each mene (end, round) is over before it has properly begun. Or— each mene is being cut off prematurely, before reaching proper completion.

The problem, I think, is that the FIPJP rules specify that, in singles games, each player plays with only three boules. And what would solve the problem, I think, is for each player to play with four boules— 4-boule singles.

The notion of 4-boule singles is a natural idea, and it isn’t a new none. At the FIPJP world championships in Spa, Belgium in 1959, singles games were played with four boules.

Most players find the notion of 4-boule singles an appealing one. In 2016 BOULISTENAUTE.COM conducted an informal survey of world-class players. You can find it on Youtube, in a video called “Pétanque le TaT à 3 ou 4 boules? Interviews”. By a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1, top-ranking players said that they would prefer to play singles with 4 boules.

And of course the idea has a pleasing mathematical regularity.

3-player teams ==> 2 boules each
2-player teams ==> 3 boules each
1-player teams ==> 4 boules each

The bottom line is that in my opinion the FIPJP rules should be changed to specify that singles games are to be played with four boules, or at least to specify that singles games may be played with three or four boules.

Until that happens, nothing is stopping us from playing 4-boule singles in informal/social play. The rules of Petanque Libre, which are designed specifically for use in such games, allow players to play singles with whatever number of boules they wish, and actually specifies that singles will be played with 4 boules.

FIPJP rules specify that in singles games players play with 3 boules. PL rules specify 4 boules. This is a deliberately provocative specification, designed to encourage players to make a conscious decision about how many boules to use when playing singles.

As for practical considerations… petanque boules are normally sold in sets of three, but I don’t think that this is a serious impediment to the practice of 4-boule singles— we can simply play with boules from two different sets. Most serious players own at least two sets of boules, and, for more casual players, sets of leisure boules are inexpensive. And FIPJP rules do not require that all of a player’s boules to be from the same 3-boule set.


Foot faults – What to do?

For a number of years a slow-motion discussion/debate has been creeping along on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” Facebook forum, about how umpires should handle foot faults. This is a technical debate by, for, and about umpires and has little relevance for grass-roots players. And it seems to be settled; the umpiring community seems to have reached a consensus on the answer. But it is something that keeps coming up periodically on “Ask the Umpire”, so I think it is worth-while to summarize the current state of the discussion.


The basic question is— When a player commits a foot fault (steps on the circle or lifts a foot) what should the umpire do? And two different answers have been proposed.

  1. The umpire should impose one of the standard penalties listed in Article 35. In most cases, this means giving the player a warning (yellow card).
     
  2. The umpire should impose a standard penalty. In addition, the umpire should disqualify the player’s boule, and restore any balls that it moved to their original locations (if those locations were marked).

Two different arguments have been offered for the second answer.

  1. The player violated the rules when he committed the foot fault. The umpire therefore should follow the procedures described in Article 24 for handling boules “thrown contrary to the rules”. This means disqualifying the boule, re-spotting balls, etc. etc.
     
  2. The player derived an “unfair advantage” from his violation of the rules. An umpire should never allow a player to benefit from violating the rules, so the umpire should undo the effects of the player’s boule. This means disqualifying the boule, re-spotting balls, etc. etc.

The consensus of opinion (supported in my opinion by sound reasoning) seems to be that the correct answer is (1). The umpire should impose a penalty, but leave the situation on the ground unchanged.


The grounds for this opinion go back to 2016 when the bolded text (below) was inserted into Article 24. I don’t know why this change was made. Possibly it was designed specifically to resolve the question that we’re now discussing.

Article 24 – Boules thrown contrary to the rules
Except for cases in which these regulations specify the application of specific and graduated penalties in article 35, any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead, and anything that it displaced in its travel is put back in place, if those objects had been marked. However, the opponent has the right to apply the advantage rule and declare it to be valid. In this case, the boule pointed or shot, is valid and anything it has displaced remains in its place.

It took a while for the implications of the change to filter out into the umpiring community. In 2018 the foot fault question came up again on Ask the Umpire. In the Masters de Pétanque an umpire had given Dylan Rocher a warning for a foot fault, but he did not disqualify Dylan’s thrown boule. The question was— Did the umpire rule correctly?

Mike Pegg replied with answer 2b— “The umpire should have disqualified the boule and put back the original boule because the player who lifted his foot should not be given this unfair advantage.”

In response, FPUSA umpire Gary Jones pointed out that “Since Article 6 clearly states that Article 35 should be applied for the infraction of lifting one’s foot while throwing, and Article 24 clearly states that it is applicable only where the rules do not provide for specific and graduated penalties as outlined in Article 35, I would rule exactly as the presiding umpire did.”

At the time, Mike didn’t accept Gary’s position. But Gary was clearly correct and by 2022 Mike had changed his mind and ruled in in the same way as Gary and the original umpire.


Let’s look at the arguments supporting the position that the umpire should step in and disqualify the thrown boule. For a number of years, umpires found these arguments persuasive, although they weren’t often articulated clearly.

The first argument is that the player violated the rules when he committed the foot fault, and the umpire therefore should follow the procedures described in Article 24 for handling boules “thrown contrary to the rules”. This is wrong. The new clause in Article 24 makes it quite clear that the penalties in Article 6, not the advantage rule in Article 24, should be applied in case of a foot fault. And in fact, Article 24 has never given the umpire the right to step in and undo the effects of a boule “thrown contrary to the rules”. The rule has always been that the offended team, not the umpire, may apply the advantage rule.

The second argument is that the player gained an “unfair benefit” from his violation of the rules. An umpire should never allow a player to benefit from violating the rules, so the umpire should undo the effects of the player’s boule. As Mazlan Ahmad puts it

What if the score stood at 12-12, and then the player shoots with feet outside the circle. He gets the yellow card, but wins the game! He still benefitted from the fault!   I have [a rule] embeded in my mind, from reading the article/book “Petanque – a guide to umpiring” (by our Admin, Mike Pegg) and I’m holding fast to it— A FAULT MUST NEVER BENEFIT THE PERSON WHO COMMITTED IT.

The crux of this argument is the idea that if a player commits a foot fault while making a successful throw, his success must be due to the foot fault— committing the foot fault gave him some kind of special benefit. But this is the well-known mistake of confusing proximity in time with causation, the old post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. In fact the idea that (say) stepping on the circle can enable a player to carreau when otherwise he would miss completely, isn’t even remotely plausible. Even in the most extreme cases that one can imagine, the possible benfit of the foot fault is insignificant. In short, it is a myth that committing a foot fault gives a player some kind of benefit. When we accept this fact, the second argument collapses.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The consensus of opinion in the umpiring community is that when a player commits a foot fault, the umpire should follow the provisions of Article 6 and penalize him with one of the standard penalties listed in Article 35. The umpire should NOT change anything about the situation on the ground, no matter how successful or unsuccessful the player’s throw was.

Dylan Rocher’s right foot is lifed completely off of the ground and outside the circle. The thrown boule is still too high in the air to be seen in this picture. He has sloppy form, but that’s not what makes him one of the most accurate shooters in the world.


When the dead-ball string is moved

Every petanque player knows the basic rule that a jack or a boule is dead if it completely crosses a dead-ball line. Almost always, the dead-ball line is a physical object— a string— that was installed on the playing area by authorized officials before the beginning of the competition. Determining whether a ball has completely crossed a dead-ball line therefore is a process of inspecting two physical objects—the ball and the string—and determining their spatial relationship.

There is something about this process that the FIPJP rules do not say, but that international umpire Mike Pegg has made clear in multiple answers on his “Ask the Umpire” Facebook forum— in order for this process to take place, the dead-ball string must be in its correct location.[1] The string’s correct location is the location where it was installed by authorized officials before the beginning of the competition.

Problems can arise if the string is not installed properly. Article 5 says that the string should be thin enough that it doesn’t affect the smooth running of the game, but in practice the diameter of the string is less important than the way it is installed. A string needs to be taut so it is straight, and it needs to be flush to the ground. If the surface of the terrain is irregular, with humps and bumps— hills and valleys, as it were—the string may stretch across low spots, suspended in mid-air like a bridge. In such cases, the string can be high enough above the ground to interfere with the movement of a rolling jack or boule. In this photo the string is far enough above the ground for the jack actually to be caught beneath it.

In such cases, a player can trip on the string, or a rolling boule or a player’s foot may catch the string and move it out of its correct location. And that’s when players start asking questions about what to do when the dead-ball string is moved.

There are two types of situations that raise questions.

  • Something pushes the string out of place. The string then snaps back to its correct location, pushing a boule or the jack back onto the terrain.
  • Something (typically a boule) pushes the string out of place… and the string remains stuck there, out of position.


Let’s look at some examples of the first type of situation. Something pushes the string out of place. The string then snaps back to its correct location, pushing a boule or the jack back onto the terrain.

A boule is moving toward the dead-ball line when it is caught by the boundary string. The string stretches and then, like a bowstring launching an arrow, pushes the boule back onto the terrain. In the scenario shown in the picture, did the ball cross the dead-ball line or not? What prevails— the string itself or the lane limit it represents? Is the boule dead or alive?

Here’s another example. This one involves the jack rather than a boule.

I was standing near the dead-ball line when my partner shot the jack. The jack flew toward me and in order not to stop it, I stepped back. My shoe caught the dead-ball string and pulled it back. The jack crossed the place where the string had been. When I lifted my foot, the string snapped back to its normal location, knocking the jack back in-bounds. Our opponents did not see this, and neither did the umpire. The umpire ruled that the jack was still good.

What these situations have in common is that the string was in motion throughout the incident. There was never a point in time when observers could visually compare the location of the ball to the location of the string in its correct location. Given that fact, all that players and umpires can do is to wait for everything to come to rest, and then compare the location of the ball to the location of the string. In both of these cases, the ball ends up inside the dead-ball string, so it is still alive.

Note that these situations are different from a situation in which a boule rolls across the string and then, because of a slope in the ground, rolls back in-bounds. In such a case, the string remains in its correct location. Observers can see the string and they can see the boule, and they can see that the boule completely crosses the string before rolling back in-bounds. The boule is dead.


In the second kind of situation, something pushes the string out of place, and the string remains stuck there, out of position.

In this photo we see that a boule has pushed the dead-ball string outward from its correct location. The jack is on the out-of-bounds side of the dead-ball string but still touching the string.

The question is—Is the jack dead?

The answer is— We don’t know. We can’t tell, because we can’t compare the location of the jack to the location of the string when the string is in its correct location.

The solution to the problem is to put the string back into its correct location.

Then we can make a decision based on the locations of the jack and the string.

We need to be extremely careful when moving the string back to its correct location. In this case, we can’t move the string without moving the boule, so we mark the boule’s location. We then very carefully remove the boule, allowing the string to move back to its correct location. Then we compare the location of the jack to the location of the string.

Judging from the photograph, we will probably find that the jack is out-of-bounds and dead. However, if we discover that the jack is alive we return the boule to its marked location and carry on with the game.


Now that we know how to handle such situations, we can see how a variation of one of our earlier situations should be handled. In this case, the string is moved but it isn’t allowed to snap back into place. It is held out-of-place by a player’s foot.

I was standing near the dead-ball line when my partner shot the jack. The jack flew toward me and in order not to stop it, I stepped back. My shoe caught the dead-ball string and pulled it back. The jack crossed the place where the string had been.
Surprised, I froze in position. When the umpire arrived, he held the string while I extricated my foot. Then he carefully lifted the string over the jack and returned the string to its normal location. At that point the jack was clearly out-of-bounds and the umpire ruled that the jack was dead.


Finally, in a situation where the string was so poorly installed, Mike Pegg points out that there is one more thing to be done.[2]

The umpire is not responsible for the string line being tight or fixed down, although before the games started the umpire should have checked that everything was in good order. As soon as the end in question is over, the umpire should arrange with the venue organisation to have the line re-tensioned or fixed down.

 


FOOTNOTES
[1] See Mike Pegg’s reply to Rob Brealey (June 2, 2018) https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/permalink/1583415321755911/

Rob— What’s the ruling when team A is holding the point and team B shoot successfully but team A’s boule moves the dead ball line causing both boule to still be in?

Mike – I’m assuming the string is being prevented from returning to its correct position by one of the boules. In this case the string should be carefully moved to its correct position— without disturbing the boules— and then check to see if the boules have crossed the string. You should also fix the string so that it cannot be moved again.

See also Mike’s follow-up post https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/permalink/1584258958338214/

[T]he string line has to be in place to determine if the boule has fully crossed it….

 
[2] https://www.facebook.com/groups/128791213885003/posts/4553615681402512/


Time-limited games

[revised 2022-01-02]
All big competitions have the same problem. Even with a single-elimination format, many rounds of games must be played in order to reduce the field of competitors to the eight teams that will play in the quarter-finals. All of the games in a round must have finished before match-ups between the survivors can be arranged and the next round can begin. This means that if even one game in a round goes on for too long, the entire competition is brought to a halt, waiting for that game to finish. [But see the comment by Jac Verheul.]

The problem for big competitions, then, is to devise a way to play short-form games— games that can be played in a limited and predictable amount of time.

Short-form games

There are three ways that you can play a short-form game.

  • You can play to a winning score of less than 13.
  • You can limit the time allowed for the game.
  • You can limit the number of menes (ends) played.

In the last two cases, if the allotted amount of time or number of menes has completed and the score is tied, then an additional tie-breaker mene must be played to decide the winner.

Note that the idea of a tie-breaker mene isn’t as simple as it seems. Playing one additional mene can not guarantee that that the tie will be broken. In fact, it cannot guarantee that the game will ever finish. If the jack is shot out-of-bounds while both teams still have unplayed boules, the mene is scoreless— the tie remains unbroken and another mene must be played. In theory, it is possible for the two teams to play an infinite series of scoreless menes without breaking the tie.

In order to guarantee that a game will finish in a finite amount of time, it is necessary to invent the idea of (what I will call) a Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene. This is a special kind of mene in which the jack is not allowed to go dead. If the jack is hit out-of-bounds, it is put back on the terrain and the game continues. (If it was marked, it is put back on the mark. Otherwise, it is put on the terrain near the spot where it crossed the dead-ball line.)

The competition organizer specifies the rules for short-form games

Short-form games are considered to be part of the way a competition is organized, so specifying the rules for short-form games is the responsibility of the competition organizer.

The CEP (Confédération Européenne de Pétanque) is the organizer of the Eurocup, and other competition organizers look to the Eurocup as a model for organizing their own competitions. The CEP’s choice for a short-form game is a time-limited format.

At first, when playing time-limited games, when the time-limit was announced (by a whistle, say), any mene in progress was played to its finish. At that point, if one of the teams was in the lead, then that team was the winner. If the score was tied, one additional tie-breaker mene was played. But there was a problem. As a game approached its time-limit, the team in the lead would often deliberately play slowly, “running out the clock” and limiting their opponents’ opportunities to score more points. The CEP apparently considered this tactic to be contrary to the spirit of the game. Mike Pegg reports

When timed games were first introduced, one more end was played after the whistle was blown. Teams would deliberately play slowly, taking a full minute etc., so that the opponent had no chance of winning or drawing with them. To prevent this sort of tactic, it was decided to allow for two extra ends.

In this new model, games are played to the normal winning score of 13. Any game that hasn’t finished when the time limit is reached, then switches to a limited-number of menes model. Basically, a “time-limited” game is a game in which reaching the time limit triggers a switch into a different mode of play.

  1. Games are played as they normally are. When one team achieves the winning score of 13, the game is declared to be finished and the team that achieved the winning score is declared the winner.
     
  2. For any game that is still in progress when the time-limit is reached, the teams finish playing the mene that is currently in progress. At that point, if neither team has achieved a winning score, the game switches to a limited-number of menes model in which the allowed number of menes is limited to two.

    Note that “the game is still in progress” means that neither team has reached the winning score (13 points) so the game has not yet finished.

    Note that any game that is still in progress, whether or not the score is tied, will go on to play two extra ends. The two extra ends, therefore, are not tie-breaker ends. They are meant to give the game a few more ends (rather than a little more time) in which to finish.
     
  3. If, after either of these two extra menes, one team achieves the winning score, the game is declared to be finished and the team that achieved the winning score is declared the winner.
     
  4. For any game that is still in progress after the two extra ends, if one team has a score that is higher than the other team’s score, the game is declared to be finished and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.
     
  5. For any game that is still in progress after the two extra ends, if the score is tied, the game plays a third, Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene. After that mene, the game is declared to be finished and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.

Here’s how the CEP rules for timed, Swiss system games describe it.

[The time limit is 75 minutes for a triples game, 60 minutes for a doubles game, and 45 minutes for a singles game.]

[A]t the end of the time limit the current end should be completed plus two more ends. In the case of equal scores after the two additional ends, the teams will play one more end. During this extra end, the jack cannot become dead (out of play). If the jack goes out of the defined playing area it will be put back in its original position, or if that is not marked then in the nearest valid place to where it went out of play.


Here’s how the FIPJP competition rules for the world championships describe it, in Article 19 of Règlement des Championnats du Monde.

All games in the World Championships are played to 13 points, with the exception of games to which a time limit is applied. [For world championship games, the time limit is 75 minutes for a men’s triples game, 60 minutes for any other kind of triples game, 60 minutes for a doubles game, and 45 minutes for a singles game.] If neither team has reached 13 points before the end of the fixed time, it will be contested for up to two additional ends. In the event of a tie at the end of the extra ends there will be a final end in which the jack, if it can be moved, will never be dead.


A problem with the idea of a guaranteed tie-breaker

There is a problem with these rules for time-limited games. The “guaranteed” tie-breaker does not guarantee that the tie will be broken after the third mene. The fact that the jack cannot go dead does not mean that one team must score. There can be a null point at the end of the third mene (an equidistant boules situation, or an empty terrain situation), which means that neither team scores, and the two scores remain tied.

It may be argued that something that is so unlikely to happen is nothing to worry about. But as an ex-computer programmer, I know that if there is a loophole in a set of rules so that a problem CAN happen, it WILL happen. The only question is about how long it will be before it happens. This is true of computer programs, and it is true of the rules for time-limited games.

Some interesting, unintended consequences

In time-limited games, all boundary lines are dead-ball lines. Before 2020, that meant that a thrown jack had to be at least a meter (sometimes: at least half a meter) from a side dead-ball line. But in 2020 the rules changed. Now a jack can be thrown right next to a side dead-ball line. And that has introduced an interesting new tactic into time-limited games.

Now, at the start of an extra mene, it is common for a team with a higher score to throw the jack very close to the side string. And then, rather than pointing with their first boule, they shoot the jack out-of-bounds. This finishes the extra mene without changing the score and without affecting the team’s lead. With this tactic, a team that has a good shooter and is leading at the beginning of the first or second extra mene has virtually won the game.

The boule advantage – an important petanque concept

updated 2021-12-21

To understand petanque at the strategic level, you need to understand the concept of “the boule advantage”.

The basic idea is simple — the team with the most unplayed boules “has the boule advantage”. If your team has two unplayed boules, and my team has four, then my team has the boule advantage.

Digging a bit deeper

It is possible to provide a precise definition of the boule advantage.

If a team gains the point every time it throws, we will say that the team plays perfectly. (Note that it doesn’t make any difference how the team gains the point. They can out-point the opposition, or shoot away an opposition boule that is holding the point, or shoot the jack. The important thing is that they never require more than one throw to gain the point.)

At any point during a mene, a team has the boule advantage if, assuming that it plays perfectly from that point forward, that team will play the last boule in the mene.

At the start of a mene, the second team to play always has the boule advantage. You can often see this in world-championship games. Team A points the first boule, and Team B shoots it with their own first boule. Team A points their next boule and Team B shoots it with their next boule. Point. Shoot. Point. Shoot. The teams alternate gaining the point until Team A points their last boule. This leaves Team B to play the last boule of the mene. They shoot or point with their last boule and often win the mène.

In short, if you think of a mène as a conversation, then the team with the boule advantage is the team that gets to “have the last word” in that conversation.

Among world-class players, the “point, shoot, point, shoot” pattern is so predictable that often the best way to follow the game is to watch for cases in which a team fails to play perfectly and requires two or more throws to gain the point. The real drama in a world-championship game is in the shot that just barely misses, and the pointing throw that doesn’t quite gain the point. Such failures turn over the boule advantage to the opposing team.  At this level of play, losing the boule advantage can mean losing the mène.

To point? or to shoot? Some strategic considerations

Suppose that your team has two pointers and one shooter. The opponents throw the jack and point a very nice first boule… it is close to the jack and is going to be very hard to out-point. What do you do?

  • Should you ask your shooter to try to shoot it?
  • But… it is very early in the mene, and the opposing team still has five boules. Should you point, and save your shooter for an emergency?

This is petanque’s classic question — to point, or to shoot?  If you decide to point, you may end up with another classic situation— your team ends up throwing all of its boules, trying to out-point the opponents’ opening boule. After you’ve done it, you realize that you’ve lost the boule advantage big time. The opposing team still has five boules that it can play without fear of any response from your team. And you realize in retrospect that you should have used your shooter to try to shoot that opening boule.

If this happens to you, here’s how you should think about the situation.

  • Your team started with the boule advantage.  You might have kept the boule advantage if you had brought out your shooter and shot the opposing team’s opening boule. Even if it took your shooter more than one attempt, it would have been worth it to get rid of that dangerous opening boule.
     
  • In deciding not to shoot, you not only lost the advantage, you gave the advantage to your opponents, to the tune of five boules. With a boule advantage that big, they are almost certainly going to score several points and win the mene.

The moral of this story is that one of your highest priorities should be NOT to lose the boule advantage. And that can sometimes mean using your shooter very early in the mene.

The Forgotten Boule and the Boule Advantage

Suppose that there are a lot of boules on the ground. Your team has the point, so you ask the opponents if they have any unplayed boules. They look around and then say “No, we’re out”.  So you play your last boule.  As you’re walking to the head to count your points, one of the opposing players says “Ooops! I made a mistake. I still have one boule left!”  What should you do?

You can say “It was an honest mistake. Go ahead. Play your last boule.” But giving away your team’s boule advantage in this way would be a big mistake. With their last “forgotten” boule, your opponents can do all sorts of mischief and win the mene. So a good general rule is that a forgotten boule— even in friendly play— cannot be played. See our discussion of dealing with a forgotten boule.