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’s original location was NOT marked and it is picked up too soon?

There are two different kinds of situation, which are covered by different rules.

  • 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.

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.

Dealing with a pushed jack, and other questions about challenging the jack

[Updated: 2021-06-12]
This post was originally written in 2015. In 2020, Article 6 of the FIPJP rules was modified to include the stipulation that "The players must mark the position of the jack initially and after each time it is moved." This means that in the future the Pushed Jack Question will rarely, if ever, arise in umpired competitions. It may still, of course, occur in casual games.

The Pushed Jack Question is one of the perennial questions about the rules of petanque— players never stop asking it. The question is actually two questions.

Team A throws out the jack and the first boule.
The first boule hits and moves (“pushes”) the jack.
Can team B challenge the jack?
If the jack is challenged, how do the teams determine the validity of the jack?

The answers to these two questions are—

  1. YES, Team B can challenge the jack.
  2. The validity of the jack is determined by measuring the distance between the circle and the jack’s current (“pushed”) location. If the jack is between 6 and 10 meters from the circle, it is valid.


  • This is different from a case in which the jack was thrown, its location was marked, and then it was pushed by the first boule. In such a case the teams measure to the marked location. Some umpires say that the proper procedure is to place (another) jack in the marked location, and then measure to that jack, but that seems a bit pedantic.
  • When players ask the Pushed Jack Question they are usually concerned about the jack’s distance from the circle. But the Pushed Jack Question can also be raised when there are concerns about the jack’s distance from a dead-ball line or a pointing obstacle. Note that, regardless of why the question was raised, the procedure for answering it is the same.

This answer to the Pushed Jack Question has been the FIPJP’s official, but unwritten, position since 1996, when the FIPJP Technical Committee discussed it during a meeting at the World Championships in Germany.[1]  It is the answer French umpires have given for years, and it is the answer given in the FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires (2015).

One reason that players continue to ask the question is that for many years international umpire Mike Pegg maintained (on his “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group) that a pushed jack could not be challenged. His 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. This changed in May 2016 when FIPJP president Claude Azema sent a directive to FIPJP umpires, making the official FIPJP position clear and explicit. However, it was not until March 2017, in response to a question on “Ask the Umpire”, that Mike reported that he had reversed his position because of Azema’s directive. Mike now agrees with the FIPJP’s (still unwritten) official position.[2]

Other questions about challenging the jack

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. Neither team may challenge the jack after the jack has been measured and shown to be valid. A team that manually places the jack may not challenge it.

Some players like to throw the jack and the first boule so quickly that the opposing team has no time to raise a challenge. The Challenge Rule allows the opposing team to challenge the jack even after the first boule has been thrown.

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?” The captain of 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 still challenge the jack?

Answer: YES, team B still has the right to challenge the jack. The FIPJP rules do not recognize any way to verbally accept the jack, so (according to the FIPJP rules) when the captain of team B says “It looks good to me,” 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 challenge it strikes some players as gamesmanship or even poor sportsmanship. That might be true in friendly play, but it is not illegal— no FIPJP rule is being broken. 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. 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 9.95m— 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. Neither team may challenge the jack after the jack has been measured and shown to be valid. Players sometimes cite a mythical rule that “the second team has a right to play to a jack between 6 and 10 meters”, and argue that the jack is invalid because it is now more than 10 meters from the circle. But in actuality there is no such rule. In this situation, the jack has been measured and shown to be valid. 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. Team B can challenge the jack. The thrown jack’s validity can be determined by measuring the distance from the circle to the marked position.

Q5: “The players must mark the position of the jack initially and after each time it is moved.” Which team is responsible for doing the marking?

Answer: The team that throws or places the jack is responsible for marking its location at the beginning of the mene. Thereafter, if a team throws a boule that directly or indirectly moves the jack, that team is responsible for marking the jack’s new location. A team may not play against a jack whose location is not marked, so if the jack is moved by the wind, the team that plays the next boule is responsible for insuring that the jack’s new location has been marked before they play their next boule.

Tips for avoiding problems with challenging the jack

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.

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. If you let yourself become upset over the opposing team’s “poor sportsmanship”, you shoot yourself in the foot as far as “the mental game” is concerned. So be mellow; keep calm and carry on.


[1] This was reported by Mike Pegg himself in a 1999 post on petanque.org. Unfortunately, the original petanque.org website is now gone.

[2] For Mike’s old position, see THIS and THIS.
For Mike’s revised position as of March 2017, see THIS.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to obtain a copy of Azema’s 2016 directive, so the FIPJP’s official position is still undocumented.

When a leaf hides the jack

[updated: 2018-12-18]
A leaf is hiding the jack. Should we pick up the leaf, or declare the jack dead?

The FIPJP 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?
You remove the leaf and continue the game. See Article 11 — “If, during a mene, the jack is suddenly[1] hidden by a leaf of a tree or a piece of paper, these objects are removed.”

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?
You declare the jack dead. See Article 9 — “If a jack is still in-bounds of the terrain, but cannot be seen from the circle, it is dead.”

To understand what’s going on here, it’s helpful to distinguish between game objects and foreign agents. Game objects are things that can legally cause physical events in the game. Game objects include the jack, the boules, the terrain and things on the terrain such as leaves and rocks. Foreign agents are things that are NOT game objects— things that blow, roll, fly, fall, bounce, or walk onto (or across) the terrain and interfere with the game. A bouncing football, a boule from another game, a spectator, a player, an umpire, a child, or an animal is a foreign agent if it stops a moving ball or moves a stopped ball or hides the jack. Like this “troublemaker”.
In Case A a leaf blown onto the terrain is a foreign agent, so it should be removed. In Case B the leaf is a game object because it is part of the terrain, so it should not be touched.

Sometimes even the French get it wrong

The French Federation of Petanque (FFPJP ) publishes a document called Code d’Arbitrage — the “Umpire’s Handbook”. Its discussion of Article 11 tries to explain the difference between Case A and Case B but does so with a confusing graphic.

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.

Looking at this graphic it is possible to get the impression that if ONE leaf is involved the leaf should be removed, but if TWO leaves are involved the jack is dead. There was, in fact, a report on “Ask the Umpire” of two FIPJP French trainers being asked what should be done if TWO leaves were to blow onto the terrain and hide the jack. The trainers insisted that Article 11 permitted the removal of one– but only one– leaf, and that if TWO leaves blow onto the terrain and hide the jack, the leaves cannot be picked up and the jack is dead. I suspect that the trainers simply misunderstood the pictures in their own Umpires Handbook.

[1] 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.