Something is hiding the jack. Is the jack dead?

[updated: 2021-08-20
This, or some variant of it, is one of the frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque.

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

The reason that players ask this question is that Article 9 and Article 12 of the FIPJP rules contradict each other.

  • Article 9 says that “when, still on the authorised terrain, the displaced jack is not visible from the circle” it is dead. So if a boule hits the jack and knocks it behind a tree on the terrain, you declare the jack dead.
     
  • Article 12 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.” So if the wind blows a leaf in front of the jack, the jack— despite the fact that it is not visible from the circle— is not dead. You remove the leaf and continue the game.

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

One of the basic principles of petanque is that the situation on the ground can (legally) be changed only by a thrown boule, or by the effects of a thrown boule. If the situation on the ground is changed by anything else, then the change isn’t legal and should be undone. You can see this principle stated pretty explicitly in Article 12. Reversing the order of the three sentences in Article 12 (and numbering them as I’ve done here) helps to make the basic idea clear.

(1) If the jack is moved by a boule played in this game, it is valid.

(2) If the jack comes to be moved by the wind or the slope of the terrain, for example or by an umpire, a player or spectator accidentally treading on it, a boule or a jack coming from another game, an animal or any other mobile object, it is returned to its original position, provided this was marked.

(3) If, during an end, a leaf or a piece of paper unexpectedly masks the jack these objects are removed.

Note the parallelism of the second and third sentences. If the jack is illegally moved, it is put back. If something other than the jack is illegally moved, it is removed.

The same principle is stated again in Article 22, which covers boules rather than the jack. (Again, I’ve reversed and numbered the sentences).

(1) If a boule is moved by a boule played in the same game, it remains in its new position.

(2) If a stationary boule is moved by the wind or slope of the ground, for example, it is put back in its place, provided it has been marked. The same applies to any boule accidentally displaced by a player, an umpire, a spectator, an animal or any moving object.

In both articles, note the reference to “an animal”. If a “troublemaker” walks through your game and disturbs things on the ground, you should put everything back where it was, if you can.
cow_walking_thru_terrain

This means that if the jack is hidden by a leaf, you need to know how the jack came to be hidden in order to decide how to handle the situation. If the wind blew a leaf in front of the jack, you remove the leaf. If a legally-thrown boule knocked the jack behind a leaf, the jack is dead.

Note that the important difference in these two cases is not in the thing (jack or leaf) that was moved. It is in the cause of the change— the “actor”, as it were. A thrown boule is a legal actor in a game of petanque; the wind is not. This is why Article 12 covers cases in which the jack is “unexpectedly” hidden. Unexpected events are unexpected precisely because they are illegal, caused by some actor from outside the game.

Some problems with interpreting Article 12

Article 12 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. This has led some players to argue that Article 12 is about only leaves and pieces of paper, and that it is not applicable if something else (a plastic bag, for example) blows onto the terrain and hides the jack. But of course that’s silly. Article 12 is clearly meant to apply to a whole class of things; it uses leaves and pieces of paper only as illustrative examples.

The wording of Article 12 has even confused French umpires; some have been known to argue that since Article 12 refers to “a leaf”, if only ONE leaf blows onto the terrain and hides the jack, the leaf should be removed, but if TWO leaves are involved the leaves cannot be picked up and the jack is dead. Possibly they were confused by a graphic in the French Umpire’s Handbook— the FFPJP Code d’Arbitrage. Note however that the caption makes it clear that the picture on the right is meant to illustrate a case in which a jack was hit into a pile of leaves, not a situation in which two leaves were blown in front of the jack.

Remove the leaf: the jack is good Dead jack
If, during a mene, the jack is unexpectedly 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.

Because Article 12 is worded the way it is, players have questions about things other than leaves and pieces of paper.

  1. A thrown boule hits the ground in front of the jack and pushes up a small pile of dirt. Now the jack is buried, completely covered in dirt. ► Is the jack dead? Or should the pushed-up dirt be removed?
     
  2. A thrown boule hits a large stone on the terrain. The stone pops up, flips through the air, and lands in front of the jack, hiding it. ► Is the jack dead, or should the stone be removed?
     
  3. A pointed boule rolls across the terrain and encounters a leaf. The boule continues to roll, pushing the leaf ahead of it as it goes. When the boule finally comes to a stop, 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 therefore, as per Article 9, the jack is dead… even though Article 9 is about a displaced jack, and in none of these cases is the jack displaced. What these cases have in common is that the cause of the change was a boule legally thrown in the game. That is why, in each of these cases, the change to the situation on the terrain was legal and the jack is hidden and dead.

Note that in the second case the stone was moved legally, by a boule thrown in the game. If a boule from another game had come onto the terrain and done the same thing, the flipped stone should be removed because it wasn’t moved by a boule thrown in the game.

The Bottom Line, aka The Executive Summary
The situation on the ground can (legally) be changed only by a thrown boule, or by the effects of a thrown boule.
If the situation on the ground is changed by anything else, then the change isn’t legal and (if possible) should be undone.

NOTE ON THE TRANSLATION OF ARTICLE 12
Article 12 says that if the jack is inopinément hidden by a leaf or piece of paper, the leaf or piece of paper should be removed. The French adverb inopinément means “unexpectedly” although, depending on the context, it can be translated as “suddenly”. When something happens inopinément, in English we might say that it happened “out of the blue”— suddenly and unexpectedly. The English version of the FIPJP rules mistranslates inopinément as “accidentally”. Here, I translate it as “unexpectedly”.


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