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.
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—
- YES, Team B can challenge the jack.
- The validity of the jack is determined by its current (“pushed”) location.
To be clear: the teams determine the validity of the jack 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 usually they are 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. 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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
If the opposing team habitually throws the jack and then quickly throws 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.
 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.