Who should measure?

revised 2023-03-30 to reflect the renumbering of rules in 2020

Here is a question that regularly appears on petanque forums.

Our team did this. Then the opposing team did that. So the situation on the ground was such-and-such. Who should measure?

Often the question is posed by an unhappy (or puzzled) player after an opposing team has asked his team to perform tactical measurement for them.

Here is what the FIPJP rules say.

Article 26 – Measuring of points
The measurement of a point is the responsibility of the player who last played or one of his teammates. The opponents always have the right to measure after one of these players.

You might think that this rule is merely a convenience rule, like “In this country we drive on the right (or left) side of the road.” But there is more going on here than mere convenience.

Note the wording of the first sentence… “measurement of a point is the responsibility of the player…” Measurement is something that a team does not want to do. That’s because it is risky. If, while measuring, a player accidentally moves a ball or the jack, that creates a problematic situation. Also, there are penalties.

The point is lost by a team if one of its players, while making a measurement, moves [displaces] the jack or one of the contested boules.

Teams therefore try to avoid measuring. In an umpired game, they will ask an umpire to measure. But in a game where no umpire is available, Article 26 requires the team that played last to make the measurement.

Note that there are three different reasons for measuring— tactical, practical, and scoring.

Scoring measurement is measurement that is done during the agreement of points. It is done after all the boules have been thrown, and its purpose is to determine which team won the mène, and to determine how many points that team scored.

Practical measurement is measurement that is done while both teams still have boules to play. You might say that its purpose is to determine which team has the point. But it is more accurate to say that its purpose is to determine which team will throw next. (After one team has thrown all its boules, there is no need for practical measurement. We know that the opposing team throws next, regardless of which team has the point.)

Tactical measurement is measurement that is done while at least one team still has boules left to play. Its purpose is to help one team— the team that is about to throw the next boule— to decide what their tactics should be. In tactical measurement, the question to be answered is often— Which boule is the second-best boule? The third-best boule?

Article 26 should be invoked for scoring measurements and for practical measurements— that’s pretty clear. The thing that triggers questions about Article 26 is its applicability to tactical measurement. Here are two typical questions.

  1. There are boules on the ground. Team A throws and gains the point, so it is now Team B’s turn to throw. Team A has the best boule, but it’s hard to tell which team has the second-best boule. Team B wants to know if they have the second-best boule. If they do, then they will shoot; otherwise they will point. So Team B asks Team A to measure for second-best boule.
    Team A, of course, doesn’t want to measure. So Team A wants to know if Article 26 really requires them to measure— to put themselves at risk— in order to help Team B make a tactical decision. (See THIS)
  2. Team B points a beautiful first boule. Team A throws all six of their boules, trying to beat it. After all of Team A’s boules have been thrown, it is not clear whether or not Team A’s last boule is holding the point. It is now Team B’s turn to throw. Team B wants to know if Team A has the point so they can decide whether to point or to shoot. So Team B asks Team A to measure for the point.
    Again, Team A wants to know if Article 26 requires them to measure in order to help Team B make a tactical decision. (See THIS and THIS)

The answers to these questions are NO and NO. Article 26 is meant to be used for scoring measurements, or to decide which team will throw next. But in both of our two examples there is no question about which team will throw next. Therefore both of these situations involve tactical measurement, and the team that threw last is NOT required to make the measurement.

The bottom line

Article 26 does not apply to tactical measurement. No team is required to make tactical measurements for the opposing team.

Of course, a team is permitted to make tactical measurements for the opposing team. And if they are asked, they might be willing to do so out of friendship, courtesy, or sportsmanship. But it is probably better for all concerned if they refuse the request and remind the opposing team that Article 26 doesn’t apply to tactical measurement. There is no reason in the rules why the opposing team should not make their own tactical measurements.

There is one last issue about tactical measurement. Article 21 says—

Once the jack is thrown, each player has the maximum duration of one minute to play his boule. This short period of time starts from the moment that the previously played boule or jack stops or, if it is necessary to measure a point, from the moment the latter [the measurement] has been accomplished.

It is generally accepted that the one-minute clock stops for practical measurement, and restarts at zero after the practical measurement has been made. But it does not stop ticking for tactical measurement. Once a team knows that it is their turn to throw, they may wish to make measurements to help them decide on their tactics. That’s fine, but the one-minute clock doesn’t stop while they do it.


The Puddle Rule

Article 9 contains a sentence that I call the Dead Ground Rule

[The jack is dead] when an out-of-bounds area (un terrain interdit) is situated between the jack and the throwing circle.

It also contains another sentence that I call the Puddle Rule.

A puddle of water in which the jack floats freely is considered to be out-of-bounds (terrain interdit).

In the standard interpretation of these sentences, the Dead Ground Rule is the setup (if there is dead ground between the circle and the jack, the jack is dead), and the Puddle Rule delivers the punch (a puddle is to be considered dead ground). The logical implication is that if there is a puddle (a pool of standing rainwater deep enough to float a wooden jack) between the circle and the jack, the jack is dead.

There are also a couple of implications of the Puddle Rule that aren’t so obvious. (1) Because a puddle is dead ground, when throwing the jack a player must throw the jack at least a meter from such a puddle. (2) A boule that rolls into a puddle is dead, regardless of where the jack is on the terrain.

If you diagram the Dead Ground Rule and the Puddle Rule, you see a puddle casting a sort of “shadow of death” that kills any jack that enters it. (Note, however, that the shadow is not dead ground, and it has no effect on boules.)jack_dead_behind_puddle

There are practical problems with applying the Puddle Rule. You may need a spare wooden jack so you can determine whether a puddle is deep enough to float a jack. It may be difficult to determine the exact edge of the puddle, and to distinguish that edge from the edges of other nearby puddles. (The exact edge may be important, because it is what determines the edge of the shadow of death.) And you may need to do it in the rain, with the size and depth of the puddle constantly changing.

I think that if we look at the history of these two sentences, we can guess what the original intent of the Puddle Rule was. The Puddle Rule was added to the (then French national) rules in 1970. Probably the French umpires added the rule as a way of telling players what to do when it was raining and the jack was knocked into a pool of rainwater on the terrain. In 1970 Article 9 already contained the rule that the jack is dead if it is knocked onto dead ground. So the umpires simply added a sentence saying that a puddle should be considered dead ground. It was a quick-and-dirty way to add a rule saying that a jack floating in a pool of rainwater is dead.

Twenty-five years later, in 1995, the Dead Ground Rule was added to the rules. Probably it was meant to apply to games played on terrains with bends and indentations in the boundary lines. I don’t know if the umpires of 1995 intended that the new Dead Ground Rule should cause puddles to cast shadows of death, but that is what it did.

Now, if you ask an umpire, he will tell you that any kind of water on the terrain— including culverts, streams, fish ponds, and water fountains— counts as a puddle (flaque d’eau) under Article 9.

That seems to me to be a pretty stupid way to interpret the Puddle Rule, because I often play on open terrains where streams and rivulets are natural features of the terrain. But umpired competitions are usually played on nice orderly terrains, without streams runing through them, so it doesn’t seem to bother the umpires.

Note that the organization that grafted the Puddle Rule onto Article 9 in 1970 was the French national umpires committee (CNA), working on the French national rules. The French national rules were adopted as the FIPJP international rules in 1984.

The illustration labeled "CNA-FFPJP-2013" is from a presentation (diaporama) by the French national Umpires Committee (CNA) called Apprendre les règles de la pétanque ("Learn the rules of petanque") which can be downloaded from the ffpjp-nord.info web site.

Before the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, the American (FPUSA) version of the Puddle Rule was "A jack floating freely in water is dead." However, in early 2017 the FPUSA lost that version of the Puddle Rule when it adopted the 2016 FIPJP rules "as written" as its national rules. That was a pity, because the FPUSA's old version of the Puddle Rule actually captured the original, 1970, intent of the rule.

See our other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

The FPUSA umpires guide (2015-2016)

In December 2015, Ed Porto, then President of the FPUSA, announced

FPUSA has developed and adopted a supplement containing official clarification for some of the rules that have proven ambiguous or have given rise to varied interpretations by players and umpires. They are nicely laid out and written in layman’s terms by National Umpires Joe Martin and Gary Jones.

The document— FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires— could be downloaded as a PDF file from the FPUSA web site.

About a year later, after the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, FPUSA withdrew the umpires guide. As of 2021-08-30, it has not issued another version.

Our archived copy of it is still available on our National umpire guides & rules interpretations page.

This page was originally posted in December 2015, when the guide was announced.
The post was revised in August 2021 to reflect the subsequent history of the guide.