The two games known as “petanque”

I find it helpful to think of the FIPJP rules as a mixture of rules for two different games, which have quite different conceptual structures.

Traditional Petanque is played on an open, unmarked terrain (terrain libre). The fundamental rules of the game are expressed in terms of distances from the only fixed point on the terrain, the circle.

  • 3 meters – A hit jack is dead if it ends up less than 3 meters from the circle.
  • 6 meters – A thrown jack is invalid if it ends up less than 4 meters from the circle.
  • 10 meters – A thrown jack is invalid if it ends up more than 10 meters from the circle.
  • 20 meters – A hit jack is dead if it ends up more than 20 meters from the circle.

Competition Petanque is played on a terrain that has marked boundary lines (un terrain délimité or terrain tracé). Most FIPJP rules assume that the game is being played in a competition, on a playing area that is divided (as in this diagram) into a grid of lanes (cadres).

In English, the lines in the grid (traditionally, strings strung tightly between nails driven into the ground) are called “guide-lines”. In French they are simply called “strings” (ficelles) or “lines” (lignes).

Each game is assigned to be played on one of the lanes, and that lane then becomes the “assigned lane” (cadre affecté or cadre attribué) for the game.
The game’s in-bounds area (terrain autorisé) may or may not be the same as its assigned lane.

For time-limited games, the game’s in-bounds area is its assigned lane.

For non-time-limited games, the game’s in-bounds area includes the game’s assigned lane, plus any neighboring lane(s) with which it shares a long side. So in the diagram, for a non-time-limited game whose assigned lane is A, the in-bounds area includes lanes A and B. For a game whose assigned lane is B, the in-bounds area includes lanes A, B, and C.

The guide-lines that enclose the in-bounds area (terrain autorisé) for a game are traditionally called the game’s dead-ball lines (lignes de pertes). For any given game, the area outside of the game’s dead-ball lines is out-of-bounds for the game (terrain interdit). Any live boule or jack in a game is dead if it crosses one of the game’s dead-ball lines, that is, crosses from terrain autorisé into terrain interdit. A thrown jack is invalid if it lands less than one meter from terrain interdit.

Regardless of the size or shape of a game’s in-bounds area, the circle must always be placed, and the jack must always be thrown, within the guide-lines of the game’s assigned lane.

In contrast to Traditional Petanque, then, the fundamental rules for Competition Petanque are NOT expressed in terms of distance. The fundamental rules of Competition Petanque are expressed in terms of lines and areas — guide-lines and dead-ball lines, the assigned lane and in-bounds areas (terrain autorisé) and out-of-bounds areas (terrain interdit).


1 thought on “The two games known as “petanque”

  1. To imply that there are two different games of petanque, for the mere reason that the official rules cites four occasions with variants that apply exclusively to unmarked terrains, is like saying that there were two kinds of professional baseball, the one played at most BB fields and the one played at the old Boston Red Sox stadium, with its center-field wall with a horizontal white line that determined what the outcome was, based on whether the batted ball stroked above or below the white line. Which bring us to “Ground Rules”.

    When game of any sport are played on spaces that differ in size, certain “Ground Rules” are implemented in order to compensate for the lack or abundance of space. Perhaps it would be less confusing if we were to call those lines highlighted in yellow “ground rules” and not a “second game”…

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