The hidden jack and Articles 9 and 11

Article 11 says–

If, during a mene, the jack is unexpectedly hidden by a leaf of a tree or a piece of paper, these objects are removed.

Some players hold that Article 11 is about only leaves and pieces of paper, and that Article 11 is NOT applicable if (for example) a plastic bag blows onto the terrain and hides the jack. But of course that’s wrong.

Leaves and old newspapers are given only as examples, and Article 11 is clearly meant to apply to other things too. If something from outside the game comes onto the terrain and hides the jack from the player in the circle, then that alien thing should be removed. It doesn’t matter what that alien thing is, how many there are, or how they got there. It could be a leaf, two leaves, three leaves, a piece of paper, an old plastic bag, an empty soda bottle, a soccer ball, a balloon from a nearby birthday party, a meteor from outer space.

It is true, though, that a rule written in terms of examples (rather than criteria) is a badly-written rule. Article 11 does require interpretation. While exploring possible interpretations, players have asked some interesting questions about borderline situations. Some are hypothetical, but some really happened.

  1. The jack is half-buried in soft dirt. A player tries to shoot the jack, but his boule falls short. It hits the ground in front of the jack and pushes up more dirt, completely hiding the jack.
    • Is the jack dead (as specified in Article 9, “The jack is dead when the displaced jack is not visible from the circle.”)?
    • Or should the pushed-up dirt be removed (like a leaf, as specified in Article 11)?

  2. A player tries to shoot the jack. His boule misses, hits the ground, and pops a large stone out of the terrain. The stone flips through the air and lands directly in front of the jack, hiding it. ► Is the jack dead? Or should the stone be removed?
  3. A player points a boule. As it rolls across the terrain it encounters a leaf. It pushes the leaf ahead of it as it continues to roll. When the boule finally stops, the leaf is sitting in front of the jack, hiding it. ► Is the jack dead? Or should the leaf be removed?

When these questions were discussed on the “Ask the umpire” Facebook group, the consensus was that in all of these cases the jack is hidden and dead. Presumably the commenters felt that Article 9 was the applicable article; two actually cited Article 9.

This is interesting because Article 9 is about “the displaced jack” and the jack isn’t actually displaced in any of these situations. Why did the commenters feel that Article 9, rather than Article 11, is the applicable article?

My guess is that they used the interpretation of Article 11 that I proposed at the beginning of this post—

If something from outside the game comes onto the terrain and hides the jack from the player in the circle, then that alien thing should be removed.

The expression “something that doesn’t belong in the game” is of course quite loose. But after years of playing, players have an instinctive feeling about what is part of the game and what is not. The jack is part of the game. The boules are part of the game. So is the surface of the terrain. Soft dirt in some areas of the terrain, partly-buried stones in the terrain, even leaves lying motionless on the surface of the terrain… these are all normal and familiar. They are parts of the terrain, and as such they are part of the game.

And of course, we’re used to boules pushing bits of the terrain around. Thrown boules make divots. That’s why there are rules about filling holes in the terrain.

If all of these things are part of the game, then in none of the three situations did anything alien, anything from outside the game, come onto the terrain. I think that’s why none of the commenters chose to apply Article 11. And with Article 11 out of the running, the only other applicable rule is Article 9. The jack can’t be seen from the circle, so it is dead.

Leave things where they are (and forget about marked positions)

In petanque, there are only a few things that can legally (note: legally) move a ball in a game. It can be thrown by a player. It can fall onto the terrain and bounce or roll. It can hit or be hit by another ball in the game. And that’s about it.

By "ball", I mean a boule or jack. By "move a ball" I mean change the ball's location or speed or direction of movement... to "displace, stop, or deviate" it.

There are a lot of non-legal things that can move a ball. The wind. The shoe of any human being. A dead boule bouncing back onto the terrain. A child or an animal or a football crossing the terrain. Being thrown “contrary to the rules”.

In all such non-legal events, the default course of action is simply to leave things where they are and carry on with the game.

Muttering under your breath is therapeutic, but optional

The FIPJP rules repeatedly mention another course of action— to put the ball back in its original location if that original location was marked. Some players take the repeated references to marking the balls as an indication that they should always mark the locations of everything. And they claim that, where they play, that’s what everybody does.

That’s nonsense. First of all, in normal play nobody does it.  In all of Youtube, you will not find a single petanque video filmed in the last 20 years in which the players routinely mark even the jack.  (At one time, it was traditional for the team that threw the jack to immediately mark the jack’s location. That way, if the first boule pushed the jack and the opponents challenged the jack, the original location of the jack could be established. But that custom faded long ago.)

Second, marking everything is a terrible idea.  There were enough problems with circles drawn on the ground, back before plastic circles appeared in 2005. In a triples game of 10 menes, we would need to draw only 10 circles.  But we would need to mark 130 initial locations of jack and boules, plus perhaps 40 more locations for balls that are moved. There would be so many marks on the ground that if you wanted to return a moved boule to its original location, you wouldn’t be able to find that location amidst the welter of marks on the ground.  To control the mess, you’d need to sweep the terrain after every mene.

There are a few situations in which the wise player will mark the location of the jack.  On a windy day, you should mark the jack in case it might be moved by the wind.   Or if another game moves into a position where its boules might come onto your terrain, you might want to mark the locations of your balls.  But it’s certainly not something you want to do all the time.

So if you’re out playing with your friends, and nothing is marked, and a ball is moved in some non-legal fashion, don’t worry. You know what the standard, officially-approved FIPJP course of action is. Just leave everything where it is and carry on.

If you’re with friends, and you know where the original position was (even though it wasn’t marked), and everybody is cool, you can put it back. But remember that in an organized, umpired tournament, if the umpire comes over and he doesn’t see marks on the ground… everything stays where it is.


Redrawing the circle

Article 6 says –

One of the players of the team that won the draw chooses the starting point and draws or places a circle on the ground such that the feet of each of the players can fit entirely inside it. However, a drawn circle may not measure less than 35cm or more than 50cm in diameter.

A common question about this rule is –

I can’t fit my feet inside the circle that was drawn by the opposing team. What should I do? Can I redraw the circle myself?

The answer is NO, you can’t redraw the circle if it was drawn by the opposing team. The proper procedure is to point out that the circle is too small for your feet, and to ask the opposing team to redraw the circle.

Don’t be shy. 35 centimeters, the minimum legal size for a drawn circle, is about 14 inches. Unless you have unusually large feet, a circle that is too small to hold your feet was probably illegally small to begin with. If that is an issue, you can always take out your tape measure and measure it.

Remember… When deciding whether or not your feet fit inside the circle, you must be standing with your feet together, side by side.

There is a proper procedure for redrawing the circle.

  • Do NOT extend the old circle outward in one direction, so that it becomes an oval rather than a circle. The new circle should be as close to a proper circular circle as you can make it.
  • Draw the new circle so that (if it was drawn precisely) it would share exactly one point with the old circle, the point that was closest to the jack. Here is a diagram.

When the circle is redrawn, note that it doesn’t have to be redrawn so that it is a full 50cm in diameter. It only has to be big enough so that you can stand with feet together, side by side, and they fit entirely within the new circle.

The string is not the boundary line

A playing area contains an indefinite number of terrains defined by strings… —Article 5 – “Playing areas and regulation terrains”

Boundary lines are like invisible walls rising up from the ground, separating lanes from other lanes and from out-of-bounds areas. When the authorized officials lay out the lanes in the playing area, they are in a sense doing two things— installing the invisible walls, and installing strings to show players the locations of the walls.

A string shows the location of a boundary that was installed by the authorized officials. But the string itself, as a physical object, is not the boundary line, and moving it does not move the boundary line.

Recently a question was posed to international umpire Mike Pegg.

A boule moving rapidly toward the out-of-bounds line is caught by the boundary string. The string stretches and then, like a bowstring launching an arrow, pushes the boule back onto the terrain. Like this.
boule_stretches_stringIn the scenario depicted in the picture, did the ball cross the boundary line or not? Is the boule dead or alive?

Mike answered

[T]he boule would be considered live if it has not fully crossed the dead ball line. … In the diagram the boule has not crossed the line…. so it is not dead.

In Mike’s view, the string is the boundary line. It follows that if a boule moves a string, it moves the boundary line.

I disagree. In my view—

  1. The string is not the boundary line.
  2. Anybody or any thing can move the string. But the boundary moves only when the string is installed or moved by an authorized official.
  3. In the diagram, the boule moved the string. But it did not, and could not, move the boundary line.
  4. The boule completely crossed the boundary line. Therefore, it is dead.

When a player must leave during a game

It happens. In the middle of a game, a player must leave. Perhaps there is sudden news of a family emergency. Perhaps he is attacked by a sudden bout of illness. Perhaps he is attacked by a BEAR!  In any event, he has to leave.

When this happens, his teammates are left with the question “How do we carry on with the game?” Sometimes the question is “Bob had to leave. Can Jim play his boules?”

How does the game proceed?

The answer is a definite “It depends.”

If the context is a formal, organized competition, the first option is to replace the player who is leaving with another player. To do this, the affected team would call the umpire, notify him, and get his permission/approval for the change. (In the FIPJP world championships, the triples teams are required to have four members. The fourth member is a backup for just such situations.)

In a formal competition, if no replacement player can be found, the remaining players can NOT play the boules of the departed player. They must continue by themselves, with each player playing only his own boules.

Still… umpires have a lot of discretion in making decisions that allow competitions to continue smoothly. Each situation is unique, and a particular umpire in a particular set of circumstances might see other options.

If the context is a friendly game, the players can be more relaxed about following the letter of the law. The affected team would try to find a replacement player. Failing that, the remaining teammates could increase the number of boules they play.

Just as an umpire has a lot of discretion in making decisions in a formal competition, the players in a friendly game are free to continue in any way that is acceptable to both teams. The players might, for instance, simply stop the game, re-form the teams, and start again.

Where you run into problems is in a friendly but competitive game (no umpire) where one team is happy to proceed in a relaxed way, while the other team feels that “the rules are the rules”. In such a case, there can be disagreement about how to proceed.

At this point we have a human relationship problem, not a question about the rules of petanque. This is tricky territory. But if you can remember that this is not about the rules of petanque, but about getting along with people who you want to keep as friends for a long time, you’ll be OK. You’ll figure out something.

Open-toe shoes

“Can I wear sandals while playing?”

  • In a friendly game on a terrain without strings: YES.
  • Otherwise: NO.

On the international level, the FIPJP rules require “proper dress” (une tenue correcte) for all players, but specific dress restrictions are left to national federations and competition organizers.

On the national level, most national federations have a “Player Code of Behavior” in addition to the official rules of petanque. The Code of Behavior may differ from nation to nation, but typically prohibits smoking, drinking, cursing on the terrain, playing shirtless (torse nu), pets on the terrain, glass containers, mobile phones, e-cigarettes, and high heels.

In its Code of Behavior, the Australian petanque federation has required enclosed footwear since at least 2006. The dress code of the French federation has required enclosed footwear since at least 2011.

On the competition level, competition organizers often require enclosed footwear if that requirement is not specified in national federation regulations. Both the FPUSA and the English Petanque Association (EPA) require enclosed footwear for all of their competitions.

The requirement for closed footwear has nothing to do with the danger of dropping a boule on your foot— ordinary shoes don’t provide much more protection than open-toe sandals. It is about tripping.

The boundaries of marked terrains are traditionally marked with strings strung tightly between nails driven into the ground. When installed properly, the strings lie very close to the ground and pose a negligible tripping hazard for anyone wearing enclosed footwear. But experience has shown that open-toe shoes significantly increase the risk of tripping on the strings, and of a serious fall. As Mike Pegg notes

In England we do not allow open-toe or backless sandals/shoes because on a terrain with string lines (to make the lane) it is very easy to catch the string between your foot and the shoe and can do a lot of harm.


It is sometimes said that the FPUSA footwear requirement is a condition of the FPUSA’s liability insurance policy. This, however, may be an urban myth. Ernesto Santos (of La Boule New Yorkaise) says

While the FPUSA has rules about not playing with open-toed shoes in FPUSA tournaments (unless you have a doctor’s note) and some have claimed that it is due to liability insurance — nobody has ever actually shown where in the policy it says that. And in fact the previous president (Ed Porto) has said that it is perfectly fine to have local tournaments that allow open toed shoes.

The Bottom Line

In any organized competition, there is almost certainly a (national or competition-level) requirement that players wear enclosed footwear.

When playing on a terrain marked with strings, as a matter of common-sense safety you should NEVER go barefoot or wear open-toe or open-heel shoes or sandals.

If you’re playing a friendly game on a terrain without strings, feel free to relax in those sandals.🙂

A boule thrown out of turn

Team A has the point. Team B throws boule B1. B1 gains the point but the players don’t realize that. Mistakenly believing that team A still has the point, team B throws boule B2.

The players then walk to the head and measure all of the boules. They discover that B1 had actually gained the point. That means that after B1 was thrown, team A, not team B, should have thrown the next boule. Boule B2 was “thrown out of turn”. What should be done?


It’s a boule thrown “contrary to the rules”

Article 15 says that “it is the team that does not hold the point that plays.” So it seems obvious that a boule played out-of-turn should be considered a boule thrown contrary to the rules. That means that we should apply Article 23.

Any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead, and anything that it displaced in its travel is put back in place, if its original position was marked. However, the opponent has the right to apply the advantage rule and to declare that it is valid. In this case, the boule pointed or shot, is still alive and anything it has displaced remains in its place.

In our example, nothing was marked, so everything is left in place and the opposing team (team A) has the choice of whether or not to leave the offending boule on the terrain. Then the game on the ground is evaluated, and the team not holding the point (which may be either of the teams) plays the next boule.

It’s NOT a boule thrown “contrary to the rules”

But… But… Wait a minute. Not everyone would agree that a boule played out-of-turn is a boule thrown contrary to the rules.

In 2008, the national umpires for Petanque New Zealand (PNZ) issued a set of rules interpretations that held that a boule thrown out of turn is NOT a “boule thrown contrary to the rules”, and Article 23 should not be applied.

Even if the boule was not holding, by agreeing that it was, the opponents in effect declared it to be valid under Rule 23. At the end of the mène, the boules can be measured, but not to determine whether the team had played out of turn, only to determine the current holding positions for points purposes.

Following this lead, in 2012 John Degueldre, Director of Umpiring for Petanque New Zealand, issued the following ruling.

Boules played out of turn are not considered as an infringement to the rules [i.e. 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. But it is still the player or team not holding the point that must play the next boule.

The practical effect of this interpretation is that, after a boule is thrown out-of-turn, everything is left where it is, and the game just carries on. The game on the ground is evaluated, and the team not holding the point (which may be either of the teams) plays the next boule.

It’s a little more complicated than that…

Consider these two cases.

  1. The two teams walk to the head and visually inspect the situation. Team B says, “Looks to me like you’ve got the point.” Team A says, “Yeah, I think so too.” They don’t measure. Team B goes back to the circle and throws.
  2. After throwing boule B1, the player in the circle makes a snap judgment that he has failed to gain the point. Without asking team A whether or not they agree, and before team A has time to inspect the head or even shout “Wait a minute,” he throws boule B2.

It seems to me that a player should not throw a boule without getting an “agreement on the point” roughly similar to the “agreement of points” that takes place at the end of a mene.

  1. In the first case team B got team A’s agreement that he should throw. Both teams made an honest mistake and the game should just carry on.
  2. In the second case team B failed to do due diligence, failed to get team A’s “agreement on the point”. And for that reason, team B really did throw B2 contrary to rules.

The second case is actually very similar to what the PNZ called lazy petanque. But PNZ saw that such situations were mostly beginners mistakes, and chose to treat them as such.

The bottom line

If none of the locations of boules were marked (as is almost always the case) then there is actually very little difference between these two interpretations.

  • Under both of them, everything except the offending boule is left where it is.
  • The only difference is whether or not the opposing team has the option (under Article 23) of declaring the offending boule to be dead.

If a “boule thrown out of turn” situation was to happen in an umpired FIPJP-sanctioned tournament, the umpire would probably apply Article 23. But you’ll probably never see it happen. Players in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions are experienced enough not to let this kind of situation ever arise.

During friendly play, you probably want to follow the guidelines provided by Petanque New Zealand. Just leave everything where it is and carry on with the game. In my own petanque group we go even farther. If the out-of-turn boule didn’t move anything on the ground, then it is possible to return the boule to its owner and carry on as if nothing ever happened. And that is what we do.

“Boules thrown out of turn” situations really disturb rules nerds (like me). We dislike the possibility that boule B2, thrown out of turn and contrary to the rules, could create major havoc on the terrain and alter the game dramatically in favor of team B. And after all that, most boules (and the jack, which might also have been moved) must be left exactly where they are.

Our only consolation is that such situations happen only in friendly games among beginning players. In such games the best response is to be astonished and amused by team B’s luck, and then happily carry on with the game.

The notion of “a boule thrown out of turn” is sometimes invoked in cases of forgotten boules. But I think that is a mistake.