Putting things back

One of the problems with the FIPJP rules document is that it mixes together in one document material that properly belongs in three different documents— rules of the game, administrative procedures, and guidelines for umpires. In particular, mixing guidelines for umpires with rules of the game blurs the difference between the two. The rules about “putting things back” are a good illustration of this problem.

There are a variety of ways in which a ball (boule or jack) can be moved illegally during a game. When a ball is illegally moved, players then confront the question of whether they should leave it where it is, or put it back in its original location.


Here is what the FIPJP rules say.

Article 12 – Jack masked or displaced … To avoid all disagreement, the players must mark the position of the jack. No claim will be accepted [by an umpire] regarding unmarked boules or an unmarked jack.

Article 22 – Displaced boules … To avoid all disagreement, the players must mark the boules. No claim will be admissible [by an umpire] for an unmarked boule, and the umpire will make his decision based only on the locations of the boules on the terrain.

Basically, this boils down to a set of guidelines for umpires and a separate set of guidelines (advice, really) for players.

Guidelines for Umpires
When making a decision concerning an illegally-moved ball (boule or jack) an umpire will ignore any claim by players about the original location of the ball if that original location is not marked, and will make his decision based only on the current locations of the balls on the terrain.

Guidelines for Players
An umpire will ignore any claim that you might make about the original location of a ball if that original location is not marked. Therefore, the only way that you can be sure that an umpire will return an illegally-moved ball to its original location is (a) always to mark the current location of every ball on the terrain, and (b) always to create new marks and erase old marks whenever any of the balls is moved.

These guidelines generate a lot of discussion on online petanque forums. What I want to emphasize in this post is that players are not bound by the guidelines for umpires. If you are a player in a social game where there is no umpire, the guidelines for umpires are irrelevant. You and your fellow players are free to restore an illegally-moved ball (say, a jack accidentally moved during measurement) to its original location and carry on with your game. (Here, “its original location” means in effect “a location agreeable to both teams”. This is an important feature of the rules of Petanque Libre, which are specifically designed for games where there is no umpire.)

Even if you are playing in an umpired game you are NOT required to call in an umpire if a ball is moved illegally. Without calling in an umpire, the two teams are free to restore an illegally-moved ball to its original location and carry on with their game.


Deliberately picking up one of your own boules

In the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, a paragraph was added to the end of Article 27.

Article 27 – Picked-up boules
It is forbidden for players to pick up played boules before the end of the mene.
At the end of a mene, any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead. No claim is admissible on this subject.
▶If a player picks up his boules from the game terrain while his partners have boules remaining, they will not be allowed to play them.◀

Paragraph 3 was a good idea. Before it was added, if a player deliberately picked up one of his/her own played boules, the boule was dead and that was that. The player achieved his goal (to remove the boule) and there were no negative consequences for the player.

But… why would a player ever want deliberately to remove one of his own boules?

Suppose that you are playing on team B when one of the following situations arises.

  1. Team A has thrown all of their boules, while your team still has four boules to play. The front is almost completely open, just waiting for you to point those four boules and score four points. But there is a problem. One of your own boules, B1, is sitting exactly on the ideal donnée for your pointing throws. When it was first thrown it was a great blocking boule, but now it is blocking you rather than the opponents. You wish it was out of there.
  2. Your team has one point one the ground. If you could shoot away opposing boule A1, your team could score four points. But boule B1, one of your own boules, is right behind A1, kissing it. You’re familiar with Newton’s cradle and you know the physics of this situation. If you shoot A1, B1 will go flying and A1 will hardly move. You wish boule B1 wasn’t there, so you could shoot A1.


In these situations it would be to your advantage to pick up and remove your own boule. It would be worth it even if the umpire gave you a warning. In a friendly game there’d be no umpire; you wouldn’t even get a warning. Soon, perhaps, the idea would spread that removing one of your own boules was a recognized and acceptable part of the game.

The new paragraph in Article 27 fixes that problem. The new rule eliminates any possible benefit from deliberately picking up one of your own boules.

The new rule also creates a problem for umpires. Suppose that Ben, the captain of Team B, (accidentally?) kicks boule B1. Now the umpire must decide whether Ben’s action was or was not deliberate. If it was an accident, then boule B1 stays where Ben kicked it. But if Ben deliberately kicked B1 (in effect, removing it from the terrain), then Team B’s remaining unplayed boules are dead. But the umpire is not a mind reader. How can he know whether Ben’s action was deliberate or accidental?

Or should the umpire strictly follow the letter of the law and rule that kicking a boule is not the same thing as picking it up, so the new rule does not apply. If he does, then we’re back where we started. Ben can’t pick up his boule with impunity, but he can “accidentally” kick it away.

When does a mene begin and end?

[Revised 2021-12-30]
The basic subdivision of a game of petanque is a mène, pronounced like the English word “men”. In English, a mène is often called an “end” or a “round”.

In a time-limited game of petanque, we need to have a precise definition of when a mene ends, in order to determine when the two “extra” ends of the game will begin. (See our post on time-limited games.)

Currently (2021) the rule is—

A mene ends when the last boule thrown in the mene stops moving.
At the same instant that the mene ends, the next mene begins.

The Petanque New Zealand umpire’s guide explains the rule this way—

When the time signal is sounded, if all boules of the end have been played and have come to a stop… that end has finished (regardless of measuring and deciding points) and you have officially started the new end.

The 2020 CEP rules for timed, Swiss system games say—

A new end is considered to have started as soon as the last boule from the previous end has been played (not when the jack has been thrown).

Article 33 of the 2020 version of the FIPJP rules of petanque says—

The first end of a game is considered as having started as soon as the jack has been thrown… The following ends are considered to have started as soon as the last boule from the previous end has stopped.

It’s worth noting that there are two ways in which a boule can “stop moving”. It can come to rest (become motionless) while it is still alive and on the terrain. And it can cross a dead-ball line and become dead. (It doesn’t matter how long the boule continues to roll after it has crossed the dead-ball line. Once the boule has completely crossed the dead-ball line, it has “stopped moving”.)

It’s also worth noting that a mene does not end when the jack dies. Even if the jack is hit out-of-bounds and crosses the dead-ball line, the mene doesn’t end until the thrown boule stops moving.

How this rule evolved

Before the 2020 rules changes, the FIPJP rules of petanque used two different models of when menes begin and end. Not surprisingly, players were confused and one FAQ was “When does a mene begin and end?”

I call the two models the FIPJP Rules model and the Time-Limited Games model. It is easy to see the difference if we draw a picture.

The FIPJP rules used a model in which a mene ended with the agreement of points, and the next mene started with the throw of the jack. Between the agreement of points and the throw of the jack, there was a break — a period of time between the menes.

Competition organizers used a model for time-limited games in which a specific event marked the end of one mene and the start of the next. For several years CEP and Eurocup used the agreement of points as the specific event, but that was not precise enough. The CEP/Eurocup rule was changed (and remains)— “A new end is considered to have started as soon as the last boule from the previous end has been played.”

The FIPJP rules continued to use both of the two models until the FIPJP rules were revised in 2020. At that time, the FIPJP rules adopted the time-limited games model for all games, both normal and time-limited. Now the FIPJP rule is the one that I quoted at the top of this post.

The first end of a game is considered as having started as soon as the jack has been thrown… The following ends are considered to have started as soon as the last boule from the previous end has stopped.

2016 rules – Sweeping


Questions about what a player is or is not permitted to do in order to fill a hole became more complicated with the release of the 2016 version of the rules. In the previous (2010) version of the rules, the last sentence of Article 10 was—

For non-observation of the rules above, the players incur the penalties outlined in Article 34 “Discipline”.

In the new (2016) version of the rules, the last sentence of Article 10 became this. Note that the underlining is mine.

For not complying with this rule, especially in the case of sweeping in front of a boule to be shot, the offending player incurs the penalties specified in Article 35.

What the new rule says, basically, is that starting January 1, 2017, in FIPJP sanctioned competitions, “sweeping” in front of a boule to be shot will be treated as an infraction of the rules and punished in some unspecified way. The problem with this new rule is that— like so many other rules—it uses a technical term without defining it. What is “sweeping”?

Sweeping in front of a boule to be shot

To understand what “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” means, it helps to know a little bit about the history of Article 10.

Between 1964 and 2008, Article 10 specified that players could fill only the hole that had been made by the boule that had just been played. The rule said, in effect, that players got only one opportunity to fix a hole— immediately after the hole had been created. If they didn’t fix the hole then, the hole had to remain in the terrain, unfilled, for the remainder of the game. The effect of the rule was to condition players to fill every hole immediately after it had been created. If you watch Youtube videos of games played before 2008 you can see it clearly. As soon as a boule is thrown and it is determined which team is to play next, one of the players of that team goes to the hole and smooths it out.

Under these conditions, it makes no difference what your team is planning to do next. Regardless of whether you are going to shoot or point, your team always fixes the hole before throwing its next boule. Usually the team’s pointer is the most compulsive about filling the hole. He develops a habit, almost a compulsion. He walks to the middle of the terrain, studies the ground, and almost as if in a trance he sweeps a foot across the terrain to eradicate a hole. He does this even if the hole is so small that it is almost invisible. Even if no hole is visible, he sweeps the area with a foot, just to be sure that the terrain is level. And the umpires are OK with that. They think— there is almost always some kind of hole, if only a small one, and the difference between a very, very small hole and a non-existant one isn’t worth making a fuss about.

And that’s the way the game was played for more than 40 years.

In 2008, Article 10 changed. Now players could fill one hole, period. It need not have been made by the last boule played. If you are a pointer and you see a hole near your donnée, you can go ahead and fill it without worrying about whether it was created by the last boule played.

With time, players begin to see filling a hole as something you do in preparation for the next throw rather than something you do as an automatic response to the last throw. Younger players become increasingly critical of older players who automatically sweep the terrain when there is no real reason to do so. They are especially critical of players who fill a hole and then go on to shoot. Questions start to be asked. If you’re planning to shoot, and not point, why should you fill a hole? Is it even legal to fill a hole if you are planning to shoot? Was there really a hole there, or were you just smoothing out the terrain? Even if there was a hole, weren’t you sweeping your foot much wider than was needed just to fill the hole?

In 2015, in some French competitions, umpires experiment with enforcing an “if you’re going to shoot you can’t fill a hole” rule. And in 2016 the FIPJP’s international rules acquire a new clause that identifies “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” as a punishable infraction of the rules.

What is “sweeping”?

One definition of “sweeping” might be— moving around the dirt of the terrain with a sweeping motion of the leg and foot. That captures the physical motion but misses the crucial point— it is illegal to make any change to the terrain that goes beyond the minimum necessary to fill a hole. A better definition of sweeping would be— (a) using a sweeping motion of leg and foot (b) while pretending to be filling a hole (c) in order to change the terrain in an illegal way. Sweeping in this sense is and always has been illegal. But— if sweeping has always been illegal— what was the reason for adding the new clause to the text of the rule?

The FIPJP rules are a mixture of game rules and umpire’s guidelines. The new clause is an umpire’s guideline. It is a signal to FIPJP-certified umpires everywhere that starting on January 1, 2017 they are expected to enforce the rules against sweeping. The days when umpires turned a blind eye to sweeping and compulsive hole filling are over.

Changes in enforcement policy are always difficult, and this change will be especially difficult. Deciding how much sweeping is acceptable for hole-fixing and how much is too much will always be a judgment call. Umpires may be reluctant to crack down on sweeping unless it is flagrantly obvious. On the other hand, if they crack down very hard, before filling a hole players might start asking umpires to come onto the terrain to verify that there is a hole to be filled. They might start asking umpires to fill holes, to forestall any possible charge of sweeping. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few years.