Picking up a boule too soon

Sometimes a player picks up a boule too soon. It happens all the time. Given the frequency with which it happens, it’s amazing how much confusion there is about how to deal with it.


If a boule is picked up too soon, what should we do?

This question never comes up if the original location of the boule was marked. If the boule’s position was marked, we simply put the boule back and carry on with the game.

But what should we do if a boule is picked up too soon and its original location was NOT marked?

In order to deal with this question, we must look at two different circumstances in which a boule can be picked up prematurely.

  • CASE A — A boule is picked up before all boules have been thrown.
  • CASE B — A boule is picked up after all boules have been thrown, but before completion of the agreement of points.

These two cases are covered by different rules.

CASE A is covered by Article 21—

If a stationary boule is displaced by the wind or slope of the ground, it is put back in its place. The same applies to any boule accidentally displaced by a player….

A boule that is picked up by a player is considered to have been accidentally moved by the player. The corrective action specified in Article 21 is to put the boule back in its original place.

Article 21 doesn’t say anything about the boule’s original place being marked. Apparently the intent of the rule is that the players should agree among themselves as to the approximate original location of the boule, and then put it back there.[1] If there is any question about where that original place is, then we should probably apply the Advantage Rule, and allow the offended party (the team whose boule was moved) to reposition the moved boule.

CASE B is covered by Article 26—

At the end of a mène, any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead.

The corrective action specified in Article 26 is to declare the picked-up boule to be dead.

This corrective action is appropriate if the boule was picked up by the team to which it belongs. But it is clearly be unreasonable if it permits a player on one team to kill an opposing team’s boule simply by picking it up. That leaves us with a difficult question.

If, during the agreement of points, a member of one team picks up a boule belonging to the opposing team, what do we do?

If the picked-up boule could never have contributed to the score of the mene, then of course we don’t worry about it.

But if it might have contributed to the score, then the most reasonable thing is to apply the Advantage Rule and have the offended party (the team whose boule was picked up) reposition the boule in its original location. Then measurement and the agreement of points can carry on as before.

It is possible, of course, that the offended team will deliberately position the boule in a location that is different from, and more advantageous than, its true original location. That would be a violation of sportsmanship, certainly. But the offending team (the team that prematurely picked up their opponent’s boule) has no right to protest. It is the price that they must pay for their carelessness.

Note that the wording of Article 21 is almost identical to the wording of Article 11. Article 21 applies to boules, while Article 11 applies to the jack. Article 11 contains the clause “provided the position had been marked”, which Article 21 does not.

Article 11 contains three sentences that talk only about the jack. Then there is a fourth sentence with a rule for the umpires— “No claim can be accepted [by an umpire] regarding boules or jack whose position has not been marked.” A similar remark directed at umpires appears in Article 21. This mixing-in of rules for the umpires with rules for the players occurs in several places in the FIPJP rules, and is one of the most serious defects of the rules. It makes reliable interpretation of the FIPJP rules impossible. (See our post What’s wrong with the FIPJP rules.)

The opinion in this post follows the 2011 ruling by Jean-Claude Dubois, president of the French National Umpires Committee, on a related question— what to do when the circle is picked up too soon. It also follows our general principles for applying the rules.It is impossible, however, to know how a particular umpire in a particular game will rule.

This article was originally posted in April 2015, but almost completely re-written in October 2015. I have not deleted the comments on the original version, which may still be of value. But some of them may refer to text that does not appear in the current version of the post.


Challenging the jack & the “Pushed Jack” question


To “challenge the jack” is to request that the game be paused so that it can be verified that all of the requirements for a valid jack (which are specified in Article 7) are being met. Article 8 describes the the Challenge Rule— the procedures for challenging the jack. Here is a simplified restatement of the rule.

After the jack has been thrown, either team may challenge the validity of the jack at any time until it (the team) has thrown its first boule. After a team has thrown its first boule, it no longer has the right to challenge the jack.

There is a practical reason for the Challenge Rule. Some players like to play very fast — they like to throw the jack and then immediately throw the first boule. Sometimes they throw the first boule so quickly that the opposing team has no time to evaluate the jack’s location or to raise a challenge. So the Challenge Rule gives team B a chance to challenge the jack even when team A throws the first boule very quickly.

There are a number of questions that come up about the Challenge Rule.

Q1: Can team B challenge the jack after verbally accepting it?
Team A throws the jack. The player says “Hmmm. What do you think? Too long?” Team B says “Looks good to me.” Team A points the first boule. It is very good. Team B begins to think that the jack may be long after all. Can team B challenge the jack?

Answer: YES, team B still has the right to challenge the jack. Currently the FIPJP rules do not recognize any way to verbally accept the jack. So when the captain of team B says “It looks good to me,” according to the FIPJP rules he is merely expressing his personal opinion; he is not waiving his team’s right to challenge the jack. To verbally accept the jack and then turn around and challenge it strikes some players as gamesmanship at best and poor sportsmanship at worst. And in a friendly game that would be true. But in an organized competition (in petanque, as in all sports), a certain amount of gamesmanship is part of the game. Accept it. Don’t let it distract you. Stay calm and carry on.

Q2: Can team A challenge the jack AFTER throwing the first boule?
Team A throws the jack. Team A then points the first boule. Team A then begins to have doubts — perhaps the jack was thrown too long. Can team A challenge the jack?

Answer: NO. Remember what we said earlier. “After a team has thrown its first boule, it no longer has the right to challenge the jack.” Team A has thrown its first boule. Its window of opportunity for challenging the jack has closed.

Q3: Can team B challenge a jack that is pushed beyond 10 meters by the first boule, if the jack’s original position was measured?
Team A throws the jack. They measure the distance. It is 9.90m— valid. Team A then points the first boule. The boule hits the jack and pushes it. Now the jack is clearly more than 10 meters from the circle. Can team B challenge the jack?

Answer: NO. It has already been determined that the jack was thrown to a valid distance. Players sometimes cite a mythical rule that “the second team has a right to play to a jack between 6 and 10 meters”. They argue that the jack should be rejected as invalid because it is now more than 10 meters from the circle. But in actuality there is no such rule. In this situation, it has already been established via measurement that the jack was thrown to a legal distance. It therefore cannot be challenged.

Q4: Can team B challenge a jack that is pushed beyond 10 meters by the first boule, if the jack’s original position was marked?
Team A throws the jack and marks it. Team A then points the first boule. The boule hits the jack and pushes it. Can team B challenge the jack?

Answer: YES. The thrown jack’s validity can be determined by measuring the distance from the circle to the marked position.

Q5: (“The Pushed Jack Question”) Can team B challenge a jack that is pushed by the first boule, if the jack’s original position was neither marked nor measured?
Team A throws the jack. Neither team challenges it or marks its location. Team A then points the first boule. The boule hits the jack and pushes it. Now the jack appears to be more than 10 meters from the circle. Can team B challenge the jack?

Answer: YES. Team B can challenge the jack, and the appropriate response to the challenge is to measure the distance between the circle and the jack’s current position. If the jack is farther than 10 meters from the circle, it is invalid.

This has been the FIPJP’s official answer ever since the FIPJP Technical Committee discussed it and agreed upon this answer during a meeting at the World Championships in Germany in 1996 (although it was never recorded in any official FIPJP document).[1] It is the answer French umpires have been giving for years, and it is the answer given in the FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires. For many years English international umpire Mike Pegg, on his “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group, repeatedly maintained that the answer was NO. Mike’s position was that the requirements for a valid throw of the jack apply to a THROWN jack, not a MOVED jack. Since the jack’s original position (before it was moved) was not marked, there is no way to prove that its original position was not valid. Team B therefore has no grounds on which to base a challenge. In March 2017, however, Mike publicly reversed his position based on a directive sent to FIPJP umpires by Claude Azema, FIPJP president, in May 2016. Now Mike’s answer, too, is YES.[2]

How to avoid problems with Article 8

  1. When your team throws the jack, play in a courteous manner. After throwing the jack, pause. Ask the other team if it looks OK to them, and wait for their answer. This gives the other team a chance to challenge the jack if they want to.
  2. Some teams are in the habit of verbally accepting the jack, and then later challenging it. If you’re playing such a team, accept the fact that what they are doing is perfectly legal. Don’t let it rattle you. Be aware that if you allow yourself to work yourself into a lather over what you consider to be the opposing team’s “poor sportsmanship”, you’ve basically shot yourself in the foot as far as “the mental game” is concerned. So be mellow; keep calm and carry on.
  3. If you see that the opposing team is in the habit of throwing the jack and then quickly throwing their first boule, what can you do? If you’re on friendly terms, talk to them and express your concern. They may not be aware of what they are doing, and will change their behavior. If you’re on less-friendly terms, you can talk to them, explain your concern, and ask if you can agree on some arrangement whereby one team or the other always marks the position of the thrown jack. That is what umpires say players should do, so it is certainly appropriate for you to ask for their help in seeing that it gets done. If you can’t come to some agreement, and you’re playing in an umpired competition, call in the umpire, explain the situation, and let him handle it.


This was reported by Mike Pegg in a 1999 post on petanque.org.
For Mike’s old position, see THIS and THIS.
For Mike’s revised position as of March 2017, see THIS.

When a leaf hides the jack

A leaf is hiding the jack. Should we pick up the leaf, or declare the jack dead?

The rules of petanque have a hard time dealing with leaves on the terrain.


  • A leaf blows onto the terrain and hides the jack. What do you do?
  • Answer— You remove the leaf and continue the game.


  • There is a leaf on the terrain. The jack is hit and rolls behind this leaf, so that the jack is now hidden by the leaf. What do you do?
  • Answer— You declare the jack dead.

In CASE A you cite Article 11 — “If, during a mene, the jack is suddenly hidden by a leaf of a tree or a piece of paper, these objects are removed.”

In CASE B you cite Article 9 — “If a jack is still in-bounds of the terrain, but cannot be seen from the circle, it is dead.”

[The French expression opiner à means “to consent to”. So the adverb inopinément in Article 11, which I’ve translated as “suddenly”, carries a suggestion of something that happens quickly and without one’s consent.]

When we think about all of the kinds of things that can happen during a game of petanque, it’s helpful to distinguish two different types of objects.

  • Game objects are things that can legally cause physical events in the game. Game objects include the jack, the boules, the players, and the terrain.
  • Foreign agents are things that can cause physical events in the game, but not legally. A foreign agent is anything that blows, rolls, flies, falls, bounces, or walks onto (or across) the terrain and interferes with the game.

One vivid example of a foreign agent is this — “a troublemaker”.

A leaf that blows onto the terrain and hides the jack is a foreign agent. The wind that moves a stationary jack is a foreign agent. Anything external to the game – an animal, a child, a bouncing football, a boule from another game – that comes onto the terrain and interferes with the game is a foreign agent. Spectators, players, and even umpires are foreign agents if they interfere with a game by stopping a moving ball, or moving a stopped ball.

When a foreign agent makes a physical event happen, whatever the foreign agent did or caused to happen should be undone, if possible. After giving the example of leaves or pieces of paper blown onto the terrain by the wind, Article 11 goes on to say

If a stopped jack comes to be displaced, because of the wind or the slope of the ground for example, or accidentally by the umpire, a player, a spectator, a boule or a jack coming from another game, an animal or any moving object, it is returned to its original position, provided that it had been marked.

So it’s easy to know what to do when a foreign agent, a leaf, blows onto the terrain and hides the jack. You remove it.

The French Federation of Petanque (FFPJP ) publishes a document called Code d’Arbitrage — the “Umpire’s Handbook”. The discussion of Article 11 in the Handbook is interesting because it distinguishes between what I’ve called CASE A and CASE B.

Si en cours de mène, le but est masqué inopinément par une feuille d’arbre ou un morceau de papier, enlever cet objet. Si le but est déplacé sous un tas de feuilles et devient invisible, il est nul.
Remove the leaf: the jack is good Dead jack
If, during a mene, the jack is suddenly hidden by a leaf of a tree or a piece of paper, remove the object. If the jack is knocked into a pile of leaves and is no longer visible, it is dead.

Note that the first sentence is not a direct quote from the rules. If it were, the last clause would be ces objets sont enlevés (“the objects [plural] are picked up”), not enlever cet objet (“pick up the object [singlular]“).

What’s good about this discussion is that it points out the difference between CASE A and CASE B. What’s unfortunate is the way that it tries to convey the difference in pictures.

When thinking about situations like these, it helps to ask — “In this case, what is moving and what is not?”

  • In CASE A it is the leaves that are moving; they are blown onto the terrain. The jack has not moved.
  • In CASE B it is the jack that is moving; it is knocked behind or into the leaves. The leaves were on the terrain at the beginning of the game. They have not moved.

In CASE A the moving object was a foreign agent, the leaf. In CASE B the moving object was a game object, the jack.

A static picture (basically, a snapshot) can’t show the important difference between CASE A and CASE B — the difference in the object that moved. In the pictures, the only visible difference is in the number of leaves. Looking at them one might get the impression that if only one leaf is involved, the leaf should be removed. But if two leaves are involved, the jack is dead.

That would be a silly way to interpret the rules, of course. But in a question on International Umpire Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group, it was reported that French trainers from the FIPJP, giving an umpire training course in Bangkok, were asked what should be done if TWO pieces of paper were to blow onto the terrain and mask the jack. The trainers insisted that Article 11 permitted the removal of one – and absolutely no more than one – leaf or piece of paper. Are there two pieces of paper masking the jack? Then they cannot be picked up, and the jack is dead.

The students repeatedly asked the trainers pointed questions in order to be certain that nothing was being lost in translation and that the students were correctly understanding what the trainers were saying to them.

It’s hard to know what to make of the bizarre assertions of the French trainers. The best explanation that I can muster is that the trainers simply misunderstood the pictures – and the point being made – in their own Umpires Handbook.