Taking the point, or: the game’s not over ’til all boules are thrown

Here’s another question from the Frequently-Asked Questions mailbag.

In a recent game my team-mate was Robert, a friend visiting from France. Near the end of the game the score was tied at 12-12 and we had the point. Our opponents had one unplayed boule and Robert had two. The opponents threw their last boule; it didn’t gain the point; we had won! I was ready to declare victory, but Robert insisted that the game wasn’t over until all boules had been thrown. That seemed crazy to me, of course. We had clearly won and there was no reason to throw any more boules. But out of courtesy we waited while Robert went to the circle and threw away his two boules. THEN we declared victory. But, I wonder… Where did Robert get that crazy idea?

Many players can tell similar stories.

Robert wasn’t crazy. But he was European, and that may be an important clue to what’s going on. I recently discovered the rules interpretations of the NJBB, the Dutch petanque federation. It contains an interesting discussion of problems that can arise when one of the teams declares that “We’ll take the point” without throwing its remaining boules. Here is my paraphrase of that discussion.

We’ll take the point
There are many boules, from both teams, close to the jack. Team B is out of boules; Team A still has unplayed boules.

Team A believes that they have the point, and they are afraid that if they play their remaining boules they might mess up the existing situation and lose the point that they now have. So the captain of Team A decides that they will NOT play their remaining boules. He says “We’ll take the point,” and walks to the head for the agreement of points.

The teams measure, and they discover that Team A actually does NOT have the point. So the captain of Team A says, “Well, in that case we will play our remaining boules.” Team B protests and says that Team A has given up the right to play their remaining boules. Who is right? Can team A play their remaining boules?

The answer is NO. [Remember: this is the NJBB umpires speaking.] When a team chooses to say “We’ll take the point” they are in effect saying “Consider all of my boules as thrown: Let’s determine the final score”. That is, by saying “We’ll take the point” they are giving up the right to play their remaining unplayed boules. They are virtually (i.e. for all intents and purposes) throwing away their last boules.

You may or may not agree with this interpretation of the rules, but it is the interpretation used and endorsed by umpires in the Netherlands.

What I consider important is the fact that the umpires took the time and made the effort to develop a written ruling for such situations. That indicates that such situations have actually happened and created problems for players in the Netherlands.

There is an obvious and easy way to avoid such problems. If a team has unplayed boules but just wants to take the game on the ground, they should NEVER do so by saying “We’ll take the point”: they should actually throw away their remaining boules.

At the end of the game, if it is absolutely no-doubts-about-it clear which team has the point, it is probably OK (at least in the USA) to declare victory and go home. I’m not so sure, though, that that would be OK in the Netherlands or in other countries. That, I think, was why Robert insisted on throwing his last two boules. It may (in his American partner’s opinion) not have been necessary, but it wasn’t crazy.


The weight of the boules

Article 2 specifies three weight-related requirements for boules.

  1. Boules must weigh between 650 and 800 grams.
  2. The manufacturer must engrave the weight on the boules.
  3. The manufacturer’s weight mark (le chiffre du poids) must be legible.

The reason for the weight-mark is to make it easy (or easier) to detect a “stuffed” boule. Injecting a substance like mercury into a boule will, all else being equal, increase its weight. So an umpire can simply weigh a boule and be reasonably certain that it has been tampered with if it weighs more than the weight mark.

The requirement for a manufacturer’s weight mark was first added to the French (FFPJP) rules in 1974, and one guesses that the number of stuffed boules has been dropping steadily ever since. As recently as October 2016, at the European (CEP Eurocup) Championships held in Monaco, there was an incident in which the German team was disqualified when it was found to be playing with a stuffed boule. The interesting thing is that the competition was the veterans’ triples competition— the old guys. As the older generation of players dies out, I expect incidents of stuffed boules eventually will stop altogether.

An interesting fact is that a boule slowly loses weight as it is played with over the years, so a boule that has been heavily used for decades can lose as much as 5 to 10 grams of weight. This fact of weight loss prompts players to wonder if there is any amount of weight loss that is too much. Is there some fixed number of grams, they ask, or some fixed percentage of its original weight, that a boule can lose that will render it illegal?

The answer is YES, but you won’t find that rule in the rules of petanque. It is in another document.

The FIPJP publishes a document that lays out requirements for the manufacture of certified competition boules— Conditions Requises Pour L’homologation De Boules De Petanque De Competition (“Requirements for the Certification of Competition Petanque Boules”). Buried in that document are several requirements for what can and cannot happen to boules after they leave the manufacturer.

Article 7 – Note: boules of steel or bronze cannot be subjected to any heat treatment after sale to the user.
Article 9 – In no case can the regulatory marking be changed [retouché] after sale to the user.

Article 8 (“Weight”) says this (I have bolded the part that is important for us here)—

The weight of the boules must be between 650 grams minimum and 800 grams maximum. The following tolerances are allowed:

(a) Manufacturing tolerance for each boule: The maximum difference between the engraved weight and the actual weight may not be greater than plus/minus 5 grams.

b) Tolerance of wear due to use in play: Weight loss should not exceed 15 grams below the marked weight.

When Ray Ager brought up this question on “Ask the Umpire”, Mike Pegg replied that this document contained rules only for the manufacturing of boules, not rules for boules in play. And if the FIPJP rules were well organized, that would be true. But, as we have seen, Articles 7, 8, and 9 actually do contain rules for boules in play. And the meaning of Article 8, clause (b) is quite clear. So there really should be a fourth weight-related requirement for boules in Article 2 of the rules of petanque.

Weight loss due to wear and use in play may not be greater than 15 grams below the marked weight.

This post is an excerpt from A Guide to the Rules of Petanque.

The second half of this post has been completely revised in response to information in a comment by “Dr. Carreau”.  Doctor, thank you! 🙂