Must a team throw ALL of its boules?

updated 2022-07-13 

There are a couple of situations in which players ask— Must a team throw ALL of its boules?

One of the common forms of this question is — Can a team “take the point”?

Team A is out of boules. Team B has the point and has one unplayed boule. Afraid of messing up the situation and losing the one point that they now have, Team B decides to play it safe. Team B’s player holds on to his unplayed boule and says “We’ll take the point”, meaning “We’re not going to throw any more boules; we’ll just take the point(s) that we already have.”

When that happens, players on Team A sometimes ask: Can he do that? Can he say “we’ll take the point” and not play his remaining boules? Isn’t he required to play his last boule? The answer is— It depends.

At the end of the game, when one team has game on the ground and the other team is out of boules, everyone recognizes that the game is over.

Before the end of the game, however, the practice of “taking the point” is recognized in some clubs, but not in others. The NJBB (the Dutch national petanque federation), for instance, does recognize it.

When a team chooses to say “we’ll take the point” they are in effect saying “Consider all of my boule(s) 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 in effect VIRTUALLY throwing away their last boules.

But in clubs that don’t recognize it, a visiting player will be told that he can’t just “take the point”— he must actually throw his last boule. One reason for this policy is that “taking the point” can cause problems.

Team A is out of boules; Team B still has one. Team B is sure that they have the point, so they say “we’ll take the point”. The teams walk to the head, examine the situation, and realize that they need to measure. When they do, they discover that Team B does NOT have the point. Team B then says, “Well, in that case we will play our last boule.” But Team A objects. Team A argues that when Team B said “we’ll take the point,” Team B gave up the right to play any more boules.

Who is right? Can Team B play their last boule?

Opinions differ. Most FIPJP umpires will rule that saying “we’ll take the point” has no significance under the FIPJP rules (basically, it was just an off-the-cuff remark), so Team B can play their last boule. On the other hand, as we’ve seen, the NJBB considers saying “we’ll take the point” to be VIRTUALLY throwing the last of the team’s boules, so Team B can not play their last boule.

The NJBB position seems sensible, but the FIPJP interpretation has a significant practical advantage— it prevents debates about what Team B may or may not have said.

My personal opinion is that it is best to avoid such questions if you can. And for that reason I think a good maxim is— always play all of your boules.

The official FIPJP position— unplayed boules don’t count

This sometimes happens in singles games. Player A has thrown all of his boules and doesn’t have even a single boule on the terrain. Player B has one or two unplayed boules. It is impossible for player B to fail to score points with those boules— all he has to do is drop them on the terrain. In such a case, it is reasonable to award Player B the points for his unplayed boules without requiring that he actually play them. For an example, watch Christian Fazzino score three points in mene 11 of a singles game against Marco Foyot… even though he doesn’t actually throw his last two boules.

Still, in an umpired game, an umpire will probably expect him actually to play his remaining boules. As Mike Pegg wrote on “Ask the Umpire”

To win the points your boule(s) must be closer to the jack than the nearest of your opponent.   Any boules “yet to play” will not be counted.

The requirement to play those boules became explicit in 2016 when the FIPJP added a new sentence to Article 6.

If a player picks up the circle when there are boules still to be played, the circle is replaced but only the opponents are allowed to play their boules.

The rule is quite clear. If Player B picks up the circle without throwing his remaining boules, he loses the right to throw his remaining boules… which means that they cannot be considered to have been thrown. So in such a situation, the FIPJP rules are clear— the player MUST throw his remaining boules if he wishes to score points with them.


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! 🙂