Throwing the jack to 6-10 meters

To start a mène (end, round) the winning team places the circle and then throws out the jack to a distance of 6 to 10 meters.

Article 7 says: “The distance that separates [the jack] from the interior edge of the throwing circle must be 6 meters minimum and 10 meters maximum for Juniors and Seniors.” In petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you always measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the rule says that the shortest distance between the inside edge of the circle and the front of the jack must be no less than 6 meters and no more than 10 meters.

The front edges of the two jacks in the picture (below) are at exactly 6 meters and 10 meters from the circle. Both jacks are valid. If the jack at 6m was a little closer to the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be less than 6m. If the jack at 10m was a little farther from the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be more than 10m.

It is important to be clear about the fact that the wording of the rule uses the concept of distance, not of area. The distance between the circle and the jack must be between 6 and 10 meters. Some players confuse this with the rule about a boule straddling the boundary line of a marked playing area. They imagine an area with boundaries at 6 and 10 meters from the circle, and think that the rule says that the jack must be at least partially inside the boundaries of that area in order to be valid.

Imagine a square on the lane going from 6 to 10 meters from the circle. When you throw the jack it is valid when even the smallest part of the jack is in the square, like a boule’s validity until it totally passes the dead-ball line.


According to this mental model the jacks straddling the “lines” in the above drawing are valid. In fact, however, there are no lines on the ground to be straddled. The jack at about 10 meters is valid because it is less than the maximum allowable distance (10m) from the circle, but the jack at about 6m is NOT valid because it is less than the minimum allowable distance (6m) from the circle.

Sometimes players express the same confusion by asking: “Does ‘between 6 and 10 meters’ mean between 6 and 10 meters as measured to the front of the jack or to its back?” Again: in petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you always measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the answer is: the FRONT of the jack.

Which team starts the next game?

Question: In an informal setting, two teams play a series of games against each other. After a game is finished, which team throws out the jack to start the next game?

Here’s a story from Gary Jones.

When I first started learning the game, I didn’t have enough playing experience to know the most common way of playing, so I tried to glean my knowledge from the written rules. Since the rules say that the team that won the toss or the last scoring round throws the first boule, that’s the way we played– even from game to game. So we always played “Winner first.”

As an American, I had EXACTLY the same experience when I was learning the game. This year, however, we had a visiting player from France, Daniel. Daniel told us that in France they play “Losers start the next game.” I figured that since it was a French game, the French way must be the right way. But I wanted to make sure that Daniel had given us an accurate account of French tradition. So I checked with Raymond Ager, a British player who now lives in the south of France. He confirmed what Daniel had said.

I would say, in an informal setting, it’s for the players to agree such things among themselves. There is no ‘official’ rule but I think the convention that everybody adopts is that the losers of the last game start the next — in England players say, “Mugs away!”.

Another player, Andy Walker, confirmed the “Mugs away!” expression.

So there it is… The losing team starts the next game. French players can draw on long-standing oral tradition to help them when the written rules aren’t helpful. American players aren’t so lucky, and I suspect that Gary’s story and mine might be common in America. So I thought I’d write this post to help other American players who have had the same experience.

Mugs away!

After writing this post, I realized that I didn’t really know what “Mugs away!” means. A bit of internet research revealed that it is British slang (probably derived from the game of darts) and it means “Losers start!” It is what the winner of a game says to the loser, and it means basically “Let’s start (the next game). You play first.”

The word “mug” has some mildly derisive connotations.

The term ‘mug’ is simply an adoption of the common (UK) slang word ‘mug’, meaning a fool, a simpleton and especially a gullible ‘punter’ who is most likely to fall prey to a confidence trickster. (SOURCE)

It is a piece of mild one-upmanship, implying that since I (the speaker) just won, I can afford to be generous and give you (the loser, who fondly imagines he has a chance against the great me) the advantage of throwing first, although, of course, it won’t help you a bit. (SOURCE)

What makes a good rules document?

Rules need guides. If an organization issues a document that specifies the official rules governing some sport or game X, that organization should also issue a second document— Official Guide to the Interpretation of the Rules of the Sport of X.

Here’s why.

In order to be effective, a set of rules governing any activity needs to be both concise and precise; both short and clear. Every sentence should be phrased carefully and be grammatically correct. Slang and verbosity, which may cause confusion, should be rigorously avoided. Every word should be the right word, every word should count, and two words should never be used where one would do. Technical terms must be introduced explicitly, defined carefully, and used consistently. No rule should be stated twice— especially if it is worded differently in different places.

In everyday life, we’re used to reading non-technical material. With a novel or a newspaper or a magazine article we read along, get the general gist of things, and that is all we need. We’re not used to reading documents that are written in the tight, compressed, precise way that a good rules document is written. That is why, in addition to rules documents, we need rules guides.

The low-level purpose of a rules guide is to translate the compressed language of a rules document into the kind of language that we normally use in everyday life, language that we can digest more easily. The higher purpose of this translation is to help players understand the full meaning and implication of the rules.

This means, among other things, that the official rules guide will need to be revised much more frequently than the official rules document. With time, as the official rules document circulates, players will inevitably come up with new questions about the rules and new ways of misunderstanding the rules. The rules themselves (if they were well-written) won’t need to be revised, but the rules guide (whose purpose is to help players understand the rules) will need to be updated to respond to emerging questions and confusions among players.

A rules guide document is basically a “commentary” on the rules document, a collection of comments on the rules. What should those comments look like?

One thing that a comment can do is to point out implications of a particular rule. Sometimes a single word (“only if” rather than “if) can have significant implications for the meaning of a rule. The comment can point that out and explain its implications. Sometimes the full significance of a rule can be seen only when it is placed in a wider historical or cultural context (e.g. when it is compared to the rules of some other game, or when it is compared to an older version of the rules). The comment can help the reader to understand the full context of the rule, and in that way to understand its full significance.

The purpose of a rules guide document is to explain rules, not make them. The comments don’t say anything that was not already, by implication, in the rules. They explain the rules, but they don’t add anything to the rules.

Natural language isn’t always the precise instrument that we’d like it to be. Sometimes we find ourselves in an unusual situation, one that doesn’t seem to be exactly covered by any of the existing rules. In such cases we are forced to pick the rule that seems closest to what we need, and apply it by analogy to the situation. Problems can arise when two or more rules seem applicable— we may extend them by analogy to cover the problem situation, only to discover that they contradict each other. There can also be problems when the most applicable rule seems to require strictly literal interpretation; the wording of the rule seems to forbid extension by analogy. For such cases, comments can note ways that particular rules can or cannot be extended by analogy.

I have said that the purpose of a rules guide document is to explain rules, not make them. A comment that tells the reader how to use analogy to extend a written rule treads uncomfortably close to the fine line that separates explaining a rule from making a rule. When that happens it is probably a sign that the text of the underlying rule needs to be revised and clarified.

Finally, I want to make it clear that by a rules guide I do not mean an umpire’s guide. A rules guide contains comments on the rules of the game. An umpire’s guide, or set of umpire’s guidelines, contains rules and advice telling umpires how to perform their roles as umpires. It advises umpires about when to apply penalties and which penalties to impose; about how an umpire should reach a decision when competing teams offer conflicting stories; about when and how to suspend a game due to weather conditions; and so on.

If we look at the rules of petanque—

  • The Petanque Libre document includes both rules and a rules guide. Since PL is designed for games played without umpires, there is no PL umpire’s guide.
  • FIPJP, the international petanque federation, issues a set of rules in which umpire’s guidelines are intermixed with rules of the game. There is no separate FIPJP rules guide or umpire’s guide.
  • National petanque federations universally adopt the FIPJP rules document. The national umpires committee of some national federations also issues a “rules interpretations guidelines for umpires” document that typically contains both rules guides and umpire’s guidelines.

Boules played out of turn

This post was first published on the Petanque Libre blog under the title Boules played out of turn - comparing FIPJP and PL. I republish it here because I think it gives a clear account of the FIPJP procedures for dealing with boules thrown out-of-turn. See also our earlier post, A boule thrown out-of-turn.

A recent question on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the umpire” forum provides a good opportunity for comparing and contrasting the FIPJP rules and the rules of Petanque Libre. The purpose of this discussion is not to pass judgement on the merits of these rules. It is simply to point out the differences between the two sets of rules with regard to one specific kind of situation.

Steve Frampton asked about a situation that occurred during a recent competition. Here is my paraphrase of his question.

Team A is holding the point. Ben, on team B, throws boule B2. B2 doesn’t gain the point, but it bumps the jack closer to B1, team B’s first boule. Team A sees that the jack has been moved, but says nothing. Ben, standing in the circle, doesn’t realize that B2 has moved the jack. Ben and team B don’t go to the head to inspect the situation on the ground. Team B doesn’t think that are holding, so they continue pointing.

Team B points 3 boules (B3, B4, B5), none of which disturbs any of the balls already on the ground. The last boule clearly calls for a closer inspection of the situation around the jack. As the teams inspect the situation, they discover that Ben’s boule B2 had actually gained the point when it bumped the jack toward B1.

At this point, the question is— Team B threw 3 boules “contrary to the rules”, right? What should be done? Is it relevant that team A saw that B2 moved the jack, but said nothing?

Mike’s opinion, and the consensus opinion of the comments, has three parts.

  1. After throwing B2, it was team B’s responsibility to verify that they didn’t have the point before throwing their next boule. They didn’t do that, so the fault for the boules played out-of-turn lies entirely with team B.
  2. Boules B3, B4, and B5 were thrown “contrary to the rules”. Therefore, under the provisions of Article 24, team A has the choice of deciding whether each boule is dead or still valid. Team A has the right to declare all three of the boules to be dead.
    NOTE that the assertion that the three boules were thrown contrary to the rules is actually an interpretion of the expression “thrown contrary to the rules”, and an interpretation that is not universally shared. A rules interpretation by Petanque New Zealand, for instance, says “Boules played out of turn are not considered as an infringement to the rules [as “boules thrown contrary to the rules”] but indeed as a mistake. Players making such a mistake penalise themselves by reducing or losing the ‘boule advantage’. In conclusion, players do not incur any penalty, and boule(s) are valid and stay in place.”
  3. When team A saw that B2 moved the jack, team A were under no obligation whatsoever to say “you may have moved the jack”.

The last point seems to fly in the face of our ordinary sense of fairness. Surely, one thinks, team A had a moral obligation, if not an obligation under the FIPJP rules, to speak up when they saw that B2 had moved the jack. The umpire at the competition where this situation occurred apparently shared this opinion— he ruled that it would be unfair to disqualify all three boules, and told team A that they could choose to disqualify one, and only one, of the three boules.

If we now turn to the rules of Petanque Libre (PL), two things are worth noting.

First— PL rules, unlike FIPJP rules, contain provisions that explicitly deal with just this kind of situation. The PL rules are designed for use by players in games where no umpires are present to provide rules interpretations. The PL rules consequently need to be so clear and explicit that questions of “interpretation” or “fairness” simply never arise.

Second— PL’s treatment of this kind of situation (in the DECIDING WHICH TEAM THROWS NEXT section) is different from the consensus interpretation of the FIPJP rules that we’ve just presented. PL (version 5, the latest version) says—

It is the responsibility of both teams to reach an agreement about which team has the point and which team should throw the next boule.

If both teams agree on which team should throw the next boule, and that team throws the next boule, the boule is considered to have been legally thrown. The legality of the thrown boule cannot be changed by subsequent measurements or discoveries (e.g. a measurement for the point or the discovery of a forgotten boule).

A team that has the opportunity to challenge the point, but does not challenge it and lets the opposing team play the next boule, is considered to have agreed that the opposing team should throw the next boule.


In our example situation:


and when it is discovered that B2 had gained the point:

This is, I think, an accurate comparison of the FIPJP rules (or at least: the consensus interpretation of the FIPJP rules) and the PL rules regarding boules thrown out-of-turn.

CNA comments on throwing an invalid jack

In January 2017, the CNA (the French National Umpires Committee) issued some comments on Article 6. The comments were in French, and so weren’t readily accessible to English-speaking players. In this post, I present an English translation of those comments. My English translation is loose but I think accurate. The original French documents can be found on the FFPJP website as well as HERE and HERE. You can download a document with side-by-side French and English text HERE (docx) or HERE (pdf).

Decisions of the FIPJP National Umpires Committee
28 and 29 January 2017 in Marseille

Article 6
Concerning the throw of an invalid jack

After an invalid throw of the jack, the opposing team places the jack by hand.

It is forbidden to push the jack with the feet. The first time a player does this he will be given a verbal warning. For subsequent infractions, a penalty will be awarded.

This team [that places the jack by hand] should place the jack in conformity with the rules of the game. If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules. The jack is not given back to the team that threw it.

If a team loses the throw of the jack (because it wasn’t successful in throwing a valid jack) and the jack is moved by the first boule, the opposing team, which placed the jack, may not challenge the jack’s new location, regardless of whether or not the jack’s original location was marked.

In a comment on an earlier version of this article, Gary Jones wrote (February 8, 2018):

Thank you for sharing. I do have one comment. The clarification of Article 6 states, “If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules.” It should also be noted that the umpire would, in all likelihood, issue a WARNING (yellow card) to the team that failed in its obligation to place the jack in a valid position.

Rules governing the jack (cochonnet, bouchon)

As of September 2018, the FIPJP rules governing the petanque jack (the little target ball, cochonnet, bouchon) are as follows. We will discuss synthetic and paramagnetic jacks later in this post.

  1. The jack must be made of wood.
  2. The jack must be 30mm, +/- 1mm in diameter.
  3. The jack must weigh between 10g and 18g.
  4. The jack may be unpainted or painted any color.
  5. A painted jack may not be painted with paramagnetic paint.

Table of Contents

  1. Documents containing the rules governing jacks
  2. A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks
  3. Synthetic jacks
  4. Paramagnetic jacks
  5. The weight of jacks
  6. The future of jacks

Continue reading

Foot faults – What to do?

When a player or team breaks the rules in some way, we are confronted with two questions.

The first question is the How to Continue Question. “What should the players do, so that they can carry on with the game?” This question has two possible answers. (a) “Undo the illegal event.” (b) “It is not possible to undo the illegal event, so just leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.”

The second question is the Penalty Question. “What penalty, if any, should an umpire impose on the offending player or team?”

In non-umpired games players need to deal only with the How to Continue Question, but in umpired games the umpire must deal with both questions. An umpire must ask himself, “In this case, should I apply a Continue Rule? a Penalty Rule? both?” This can be a tricky question, especially in the case of foot faults, where the Penalty Rules interact with the Continue Rules. This was illustrated in a recent discussion of a question on Ask the Umpire. The question was

A player lifted a foot while throwing. His thrown boule successfully shot away an opponent’s boule. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged. Did the umpire rule correctly?

International umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was NO. Mike’s opinion was that “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.” FPUSA umpire Gary Jones’s answer was YES. “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.”

Gary’s surprising (but I believe correct) answer points out the way that Penalty Rules can interact with Continue Rules. Here is the text of the relevant rules. I have underlined the important clause in Article 24 noted by Gary.

Article 6
The player’s feet… must not leave the circle or be completely lifted off the ground until the thrown boule has touched the ground… Any player not respecting this rule shall incur the penalties specified in Article 35.

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.

In short, Article 24 says

Normally, if a boule is thrown contrary to the rules, the boule is dead and the effects of the thrown boule should be undone, if possible. BUT… if in a particular situation the rules specify the imposition of an Article 35 penalty, impose an appropriate penalty and then leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.

So the umpire’s decision in this case was correct. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged.

This interpretation of Article 24 raises the question of what it means for a boule to be “thrown contrary to the rules”. (Read other posts on this topic.) As far as I can tell, the FIPJP rules contain only two articles that both (a) cover situations in which a boule is thrown contrary to the rules, and (b) specify that the penalties in Article 35 should be applied.

Article 6 covers foot faults. The player’s feet are not entirely inside the circle when throwing, or the player lifts a foot (or touches the ground outside the circle with any part of his body) before the thrown boule hits the ground.
Article 16: The player fails to remove mud from his boule before throwing it.

In these cases an umpire may give the player an appropriate penalty (probably a warning), but the game on the ground should be allowed to remain as it is.

The Penalty Rules haven’t always interacted with the Continue Rules in this way— the underlined clause in Article 24 hasn’t always been there— it was inserted into the rules as part of the 2016 rules revisions. I assume that the FIPJP International Umpires Committee knew the implications of what they were doing, and that they inserted the clause because they wanted what it implied. But old habits die hard for umpires who have been umpiring for many years under the old rules. I expect that different umpires will mentally merge the old and new texts of Article 24 and come up with different ways of interpreting the rule about foot faults. Take Mike Pegg for example.

In the past, Mike Pegg has ruled that if a foot fault gave the player an unfair advantage then BOTH Article 6 AND Article 24 should be applied— the player should be given a warning AND the thrown boule should be declared dead and illegally-moved balls put back. Before the 2016 rules revision this was a reasonable way to interpret the rules, especially in cases where committing a foot fault clearly gave a player some advantage (e.g. a player stands on the side of the circle in order to get a better line of play around a blocking boule). (On the other hand, it opens a can of worms about whether or not a player gained an advantage from a foot fault. Does a player gain any advantage by stepping on the front of the circle? On the back? By lifting a foot?)

The new clause in 2016 changed that. Now Article 24 seems pretty clearly to prohibit applying both Article 6 and Article 24 for a foot fault. Mike Pegg may still apply both of them, but other umpires do not. The umpire whose decision prompted the question on “Ask the Umpire” didn’t. In July 2017, during the final of the Masters de Pétanque at Clermont, an umpire gave Dylan Rocher a yellow card for a foot fault, but he didn’t disqualify Dylan’s thrown boule. So Mike’s interpretation of the rules seems to differ from other umpires.

Mazlan Ahmad has suggested that it might be a good idea to revoke the new clause. “Without that clause, enforcement of Article 24 for all foot-fault infractions becomes mandatory— just like the days before the 2016 rules revision.” We’ll have to wait for the next revision of the FIPJP rules to see if the international umpires agree with him.

Note that Dylan’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. See THIS or THIS.