Who should measure?

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 25 – 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 25 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 25 should be invoked for scoring measurements and for practical measurements— that’s pretty clear. The thing that triggers questions about Article 25 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 25 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 25 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 25 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 25 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 25 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 that is worth noting. Article 20 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.

As Fredy Harke notes, it is generally accepted that this rule applies to practical measurement but not to tactical measurement. That is, the one-minute clock stops ticking for a practical measurement, and restarts at zero after the practical measurement has been made and it is clear which team throws next.

But the one-minute clock does not stop ticking while a team takes time to make a tactical measurement. Once it is clear which team throws next, that team has one minute to decide on its tactics and to throw its boule. If their decision-making process involves making tactical measurements, that’s fine… but the one-minute clock doesn’t stop while they do it.

The Puddle Rule

Is the jack dead?  French umpires say Yes.  American umpires say No.

Is the jack dead? French umpires say Yes. American umpires say No.

Article 9 contains a sentence— the Puddle Rule—which is interpreted differently by French umpires and American umpires.

Article 9 – Dead Jack during a mene
The jack is dead in the following 7 cases:
1) When the jack is displaced into an out-of-bounds area (terrain interdit)… A puddle of water in which the jack floats freely is considered to be out-of-bounds (terrain interdit).

Complicating the interpretation of the Puddle Rule is another sentence in Article 9 that I’m going to call Clause 2

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

The standard interpretation

Umpires of the French federation (and other national federations, following the French) use what I call the “standard interpretation” of the Puddle Rule. In this interpretation, the primary purpose of the Puddle Rule is to act as the setup for Clause 2. The Puddle Rule says that a deep puddle is to be considered “dead ground” (terrain interdit). Then Clause 2 comes along and delivers the payload by saying that the jack is dead if there is dead ground between it and the circle.

If you diagram it, you see a puddle casting a sort of “shadow of death” that (although it has no effect on boules) kills any jack that enters it. jack_dead_behind_puddle

Here is a diagram prepared by the Umpires Committee (CNA) of the French Petanque Federation (FFPJP).

Remember that the Puddle Rule makes the puddle terrain interdit. That means that a thrown jack must be at least a meter from such a puddle. It also means that any boule that rolls into the puddle is dead, regardless of where the jack is on the terrain.

The American (FPUSA) interpretation

In the American (FPUSA) translation of the rules

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


A jack floating freely in water is dead.

This is NOT an accurate translation of the French text. And the difference is not merely a matter of stylistic difference. Someone deliberately chose to change the wording of the sentence.

Is it possible that the FPUSA’s revised wording of the Puddle Rules is better? That is: that it comes closer than the original wording to capturing the true meaning and intent of the Puddle Rule?

I think it does. Here’s why.

The argument from common-sense

In the American interpretation of the Puddle Rule, the rule goes into effect only when the jack is actually floating in a body of water. The rule makes sense and is easy to apply. If you can see the jack floating, you must declare it dead. It is impossible to measure the distance to a jack that is floating and has no fixed location.

In the standard interpretation, Clause 2 goes into effect when the jack enters the shadow of death, whether or not the jack actually goes into the puddle. If the jack isn’t actually in the puddle, that means testing the depth of the puddle (presumably with a second wooden jack) to verify that it will float a jack. You must also determine the exact edge of the puddle (and distinguish it from the edges of other nearby puddles) because the exact edge of the puddle is what determines the edge of the shadow of death. In effect, you may be required to tell which part of the puddle is shallow and which part is deep enough to float the jack. And you may need to do it in the rain, with the size and depth of the puddle constantly changing. That’s crazy.

The Puddle Rule was originally developed to handle puddles of water created on the terrain by rain. But as you can see from the drawing prepared by the French umpires, water on the terrain of any kind is considered a flaque d’eau, including things like streams, water fountains, and fish ponds. This makes the rule very strange indeed. If a natural terrain contains a fish-pond and a boulder, then of course the teams must play around both of these features. But, in the standard interpretation, the fish pond casts a shadow of death, while the boulder does not. That’s weird.

The argument from original intent

The sentence “A puddle of water in which the jack floats freely is considered to be out-of-bounds” was added to the rules in 1970. The umpires wanted to add a rule to tell players what to do when it was raining and the jack was knocked into a puddle of rainwater on the terrain so deep that it floated. Article 9 already contained a specification that the jack is dead when it is knocked into terrain interdit. So they simply added a sentence saying that a deep puddle should be considered terrain interdit. This was an easy way to modify the rules to specify that a floating jack is dead.

Twenty-five years later, in 1995, Clause 2 was added to the rules. It was probably meant to provide guidance for games played on odd-shaped terrains. The standard interpretation, however, requires us to believe that in 1995 the FIPJP Umpires Commission realized and intended that the addition of Clause 2 would change the meaning and implication of the words in the Puddle Rule. That’s absurd. Even a casual reading of the FIPJP rules is sufficient to show that the rules are NOT carefully thought out and carefully worded.

Looking at the history of the evolution of the rules, the only reasonable conclusion is that the Puddle Rule was never meant to be interpreted as interacting with, and as the setup, for Clause 2.


The FPUSA translation of Article 9 correctly captures the intent of the Puddle Rule.

In retrospect one wishes that in 1970 the umpires had given the Puddle Rule its own numbered item in the list of conditions in Article 9, and simply said what they meant.

A jack floating freely in water is dead.

The illustration labeled "CNA-FFPJP-2013" is from a presentation (diaporama) by the French national Umpires Commission (CNA) called Apprendre les règles de la pétanque ("Learn the rules of petanque") which can be downloaded from the ffpjp-nord.info web site. Note that the organization that grafted the Puddle Rule onto Article 9 in 1970 was the French umpires commission (CNA), working on the French national rules. The French national rules were adopted as the FIPJP international rules in 1984.

See our other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

A milestone in the history of petanque

In his December 2015 email newsletter to FPUSA members, Ed Porto, President of the FPUSA, announced

New Supplement to the International Rules
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 official title of the document is FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires and is available for download as a PDF file from the FPUSA web site. (There may be a problem with the PDF file. We could print it using Adobe Reader v11, but Nuance PDF Reader choked and would print only the first page.)

The document consists of 32 questions and answers about specific situations that can occur in a game. The first one, for example, is the infamous problem of an unmarked jack moved by the first boule.

The document is very well written. The questions and answers are stated very clearly and precisely. Each answer is accompanied by an explanation of the reasoning behind the answer, including references to the pertinent article(s) in the Rules of Petanque. It is, in short, a model of how such a document should be written.

The development of this document by the FPUSA is a significant milestone in the evolution of the rules of petanque. This is the first document in the history of petanque to be devoted specifically to addressing the many kinds of issues that can arise when trying to apply and interpret the rules of petanque. It is the first step in the development of true case law for the rules of petanque. (The FFPJP’s Code d’arbitrage doesn’t come close to this amount of detail, nor does Jean-Claude Dubois’ ruling on picking up the circle too soon.)

One umpire’s opinion on a particular case, expressed in an online forum or a newsletter column, really has no more force than a personal opinion. This document is different. It has been officially adopted and published by a national petanque federation. It is publicly available at that national federation’s web site. It can’t be ignored or dismissed.

I’m proud to say that it was done by our national federation, the petanque federation of the United States.

See also the comprehensive English-language source for The Rules of Petanque.