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. It is an often-overlooked fact that the rules about relocating an illegally-moved jack are different from the rules about relocating an illegally-moved boule.

Wherever the rules discuss the jack, they say that the jack can be put back in its original location (remis à sa place primitive) only on condition that its original location was marked. In contrast, in the one place where the rules discuss boules (Article 22), they say simply that the boule should be put back (remise en place). This is quite understandable because it is only a jack, not a boule, that is likely to have its original location marked. It is a tradition (a fading tradition, now, I think) for players to mark the location of the jack immediately after it has been thrown, in order to avoid The Pushed-Jack Question.


Now, into these relatively clear waters, we will mix a dollop of guidelines for umpires.

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 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 two guidelines: one for umpires and one for players. The guideline for umpires is:

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.

In light of this guideline for umpires, the rules offer the following guideline (or advice, really) 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 avoid the certainty that an umpire will rule NOT to 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 many questions and a lot of discussion on online petanque forums. This is not the place to get into them. The point that I want to make here is that these are guidelines for umpires, not rules of the game. That means that—

(a) If you are an umpire, and are called on to render a decision in a game, these guidelines are binding on you. You MUST follow them. You, as umpire, can NEVER return an unmarked boule to its original location.

(b) If you are a player in a social game where there is no umpire, these guidelines do not apply to you. For you, they are simply irrelevant. You and your fellow players are free to agree on a location, put the boule back (approximately) in its original location, and carry on with your game.

However, in case (b), remember that the rules for relocating a jack are different from the rules for relocating a boule. Even in a social game, if you want strictly to follow the rules, a jack can be relocated to its original location only if its original location was marked.

Note that if you are playing in an umpired game and a ball is moved illegally, you are NOT required to call in an umpire to render a decision. (An umpire may of course decide to step in uninvited.) When no umpire is present, your game is in essentially the same situation as if you were playing social petanque. You and your fellow players are NOT bound by the umpire’s guidelines. In the case of an illegally-moved boule, if you and your fellow players can agree on a location, you are free to relocate the illegally moved boule and to carry on with the game.

Other posts in Putting Things Back category

Zombie-ish boules

Players are often puzzled about what to do when confronted with the following situation.

Boule A crosses the dead-ball line and comes to rest a few centimeters beyond the dead-ball line. Perhaps boule A just rolled to a stop, or perhaps it was stopped by some object such as a sideboard.

Boule B rolls toward the dead-ball line. It is clearly on course to go out-of-bounds, but by chance it hits boule A and stops. The resulting situation is shown in the diagram (below).

The question is — Is boule B dead?

The answer is — No.


Elsewhere I have blogged about “zombie boules” —

A zombie boule is a boule that is knocked out of bounds, hits something, rebounds back onto the terrain, and moves or deflects still-living balls (boules or jack). That is, it is a boule that has died and then come back to life to attack the living.

In the kind of situation we’re discussing here, we are dealing with a boule that is not a zombie, but is sort of zombie-ish. Boule A is a boule that has died, and stayed dead, but still succeeds in messing with the living.

What’s puzzling is that players find zombie-ish boules puzzling. After all, for boules still alive in the game, a dead boule (such as boule A) is merely another object on the ground, like a rock or a tree root. A boule (such as boule B) that hits a dead boule and is prevented from crossing the dead-ball line is no different than a boule that hits a rock on the ground and is prevented from crossing the dead-ball line. The boule simply didn’t make it across the line, so it is still alive.

What causes players to be puzzled by zombie-ish boules, I think, is that they conflate zombie-ish boules with boules that are true zombies. They remember that Article 19 says that when a dead boule comes back onto the terrain and messes with live boules, the live boules should be put back in their proper places if possible.{1} And they think— Boule B would be out-of-bounds and dead now, if it hadn’t hit that dead ball, boule A. So: should we put boule B in its proper place, out-of-bounds, and declare it dead?

The answer is NO. “No”, because boule A is not a zombie. It is not on the game terrain. It never came back onto the game terrain. Article 19 does not apply.

Zombie-ish boules can occur in a variety of ways. In one of the ways, everything happens very fast. A player uses boule B to shoot boule A. Boule B hits boule A hard, and then continues to roll forward. Boule A rolls out-of-bounds, with boule B right behind it.

In another kind of situation things happen much more slowly. A boule is played. Things happen on the terrain, and boule A is hit, or goes rolling, out of bounds. Everything on the terrain comes to rest. Then another boule is played. Again, things happen on the terrain. As a result of those things boule B ends up rolling toward, and then being stopped by, boule A.

If A ends up becoming a zombie-ish boule in this second situation, international umpire Mike Pegg has ruled that

The player of boule A and his team is given a warning for not removing the dead boule.

I’m not sure that I agree that the players should be given a warning in such a case. In making this ruling, Mike is implicitly invoking an unwritten rule to the effect that “removing a dead boule from the game” means moving it far enough beyond the dead-ball line that it cannot become a zombie-ish boule. That would be a reasonable rule, to be sure, but in fact there is no such rule on the books. It might be argued that it is one of “the unwritten rules of petanque”, but that is exactly my point— it is unwritten. It is NOT reasonable to penalize players for violating a rule that literally does not exist in the rulebook.

In this connection, Mike has also stated that

anything (boule, bag, etc.) on the terrain and in a position that it would stop a boule or jack from completely crossing the dead ball line should be removed. Which is why you often see umpires moving bags and the like to the other side of the timber surround.

This of course is completely reasonable. But it comes under the heading of pre-game setup of the playing area, not rules of the game.

The moral of this story is that if you’re playing in an umpired game, and one of your boules becomes a zombie-ish boule, your team is at risk of receiving a warning for violating an unwritten rule. Before you play your next boule, kick that zombie-ish boule away from the dead-ball line.

{1} See Article 19 (2016 rules)—

Any boule is dead from the moment that it enters an out-of-bounds area. ... If the boule then comes back onto the game terrain ... it is immediately removed from the game and anything that it displaced after its trip through the out-of-bounds area is put back in its original location provided that those objects had been marked.

Deliberately picking up your own boule

In the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, a third paragraph was added to the text of Article 27. The article in its entirety now reads:

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, what the article implicitly said was——

If a player (deliberately) picks up one of his own boules, the boule is dead and the player receives (only) a warning.

The idea that a player would want deliberately to remove one of his own boules might seem strange. But it isn’t, really. Suppose, for instance, 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 completely open, just waiting for you to point those four boules in and score four points, EXCEPT… one of your own boules, B1, is in the way. It is sitting exactly on the ideal donnée for your pointing throws. It is a great blocking boule, but now it is blocking you rather than the opponents.
  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 kind of situation. If you shoot A1, B1 will go flying and A1 will hardly move.


In both of these situations (and there are others like them) it would be to your advantage if you could pick up your own boule and remove it. In some circumstances, it might be worth doing even if you got a warning from the umpire for doing it. In social games played without an umpire, you wouldn’t even get a warning. Soon, perhaps, the idea would spread that picking up one of your own boules was a recognized and acceptable part of the game.

The addition of paragraph 3 to the text of Article 27 fixes that. Don’t think of paragraph 3 as specifying a punishment for picking up your own boule. Rather, think of it as eliminating the possibility of gaining any advantage at all from deliberately picking up one of your own boules.

Note that if a player deliberately picks up one of his own team’s boules, the rules in in Article 22– which cover boules that are accidentally picked up— do not apply.(1) Even if the boule’s original location was marked, if the boule was deliberately picked up it may not be put back in its original location.

Paragraph 3, like many other rules, has the potential to cause problems for umpires. Although paragraph 3 describes a situation in which a player “picks up” his boule from the game terrain, the word “picks up” (enlevée) is used loosely, and it covers such deliberate actions as kicking a boule off of the terrain, or even just kicking it away from the head.

Consider, for instance, our first example. B1, one of team B’s own boules, has become a nasty blocking boule for team B. Ben, the captain of team B, walks up to the boule to inspect the situation. He sees a divot not far from the boule. He starts using one foot to scrape dirt toward the divot when— suddenly— he loses his balance. Swinging arms and legs wildly in an attempt to regain his balance, he accidentally kicks B1, knocking it a meter away.

Now the umpire has a problem. He must decide whether Ben’s action was or was not a genuine accident. If it was an accident, B1 stays where Ben kicked it (because its location wasn’t marked). But if Ben deliberately moved B1 the boule is dead, and so are all of team B’s remaining unplayed boules.

Rules about players doing something accidentally (or deliberately) inevitably raise the old, old question— “He did it. But in this particular case how can we know whether he did it accidentally or deliberately?” That’s the problem that this rule potentially poses for umpires.

(1) Article 22 If a stationary boule is displaced by the wind or slope of the ground, for example, it is put back [in its original location]. The same applies to any boule accidentally displaced by a player, an umpire, a spectator, an animal, or any moving object.

This post is an excerpt from the next edition of A Guide to the Rules of Petanque, now in preparation.

When does a mene begin and end?

Players often have questions about when a mene begins and ends.

Actually, the rules don’t contain the concept (or at least, not a substantive concept) of a mene ending. It is precisely because the rules say nothing on this topic that there are questions and disagreements about when a mene ends. International umpire Mike Pegg says that a mene ends when the last boule is thrown. The FPUSA rules interpretations say that a mene ends when the points have been agreed.

What is important in the rules is not when a mene ends but when it begins. When a mene begins is important in two different situations, and the rules for when a mene begins may be different for those two situations.

A late-arriving player
The first situation is when a late-arriving player arrives and is ready to join the game. In this situation the player must wait until the start of the next mene before joining the game (see Article 33). Note that the rules about when a mene begins changed with the 2016 revision of the rules. In earlier versions of the rules, a mene was considered to begin with the successful throw of the jack. In the 2016 version of the rules, Article 33 says

A mene is considered to have started when the jack has been thrown regardless of the validity of the throw.

The time-limit signal is announced
The second situation is when the time-limit signal is announced (usually by the sound of a whistle or bell) in a time-limited game. Typically when the time-limit is announced players may finish the current mene and then (depending on the competition rules) play one or two additional menes.

Competition rules often include rules (for that particular competition, for the purposes of working within time-limits) about when a mene is considered to begin. Possible rules for the second and subsequent menes include—

  1. A mene begins when the jack has been thrown (successfully or not).
  2. A mene begins when the jack has been successfully placed.
  3. A mene begins when the first boule of the mene has been thrown.
  4. A mene begins after the last boule of the previous mene has been thrown.
  5. A mene begins after the points have been agreed at the end of the previous mene.

For time-limited games during Eurocup tournaments, the CEP uses option #5.

A new end will be considered as started as soon as the result of the previous end is known.

So does the 2015 version of the FPUSA rules interpretations.

A new end will be considered as started as soon as the result of the previous end is known.

The Petanque New Zealand umpire’s guide uses option #4. Note that the opening paragraph in this quotation is written as if it is discussing a question about when a mene ends, but the wording of the first bullet point makes it clear that the discussion is really about when a mene begins.

When the time signal is sounded, players decide if all boules of the end have been played and have come to a stop. If so, that end has finished (regardless of measuring and deciding points). It is the most objective point at which to make a decision re the end of an end, as it does not allow players to ‘play for time’ through measuring, deciding points, calling the umpire etc. So when the time signal is sounded…

  • If the last boule of the end has been played and come to a stop, you have officially started the new end and are therefore able to play that end, plus the tournament’s official ends.
  • If the last boule of the end has NOT been played or NOT stopped, you finish the end and then play the tournament’s official ends.

The PNZ umpire’s guide is clear that this rule is NOT to be used for determining when a late-arriving player may join the game.

This rule applies only in timed games to determine how many ends remain to be played after the time signal is sounded. It is not used for any other purpose.

Players sometimes say “the jack must be thrown within a minute after the end of the previous mene.” But that is not what the rules say. What the actual rule, in Article 21, says is–

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. … The same requirements apply to the throwing of the jack.

The rules do NOT say that that the jack must be thrown within a minute after the end of the previous mene. They say that that the jack must be thrown within a minute after the last boule thrown in the previous mene has come to rest (or, if measurement was necessary to determine which team holds the point, after the completion of measurement). There is no mention of “the end of the previous mene”.

Rather unrealistically, the rules assume that the agreement of points occurs instantaneously after the last boule was thrown (or measurements were completed). This isn’t a problem because, during actual play, time spent during the agreement of points is treated as time spent in measuring.

There are a few places where the expression “the end of the mene” does occur in the rules. One place is in 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.

Here, use of the expression “the end of the mene” helps make the assumed context of the rule clearer but doesn’t affect the substance of the rule itself. You could eliminate all references to “the end of the mene” without changing the rule.

Article 27 – Picked-up Boules
It is forbidden for players to pick up played boules before the agreement of points. Any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead.

The other place where you can find the expression “the end of the mene” is in Article 13—

Article 13 – Jack displaced into another game
If, during a mene, the jack is displaced onto another game terrain… the players using this jack will wait for the end of the mene that was started by the players on the other game terrain, before finishing their own mene.

Here, “waiting for the end of the mene” is an important part of the rule, but the expression is not being used as a technical term. It simply means waiting for one game to finish using a patch of ground so that the other game can use it without the two games interfering with each other.

This post is an excerpt from the next edition of A Guide to the Rules of Petanque, now in preparation.



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 divot— immediately after the divot had been created. If they didn’t fix the divot then, the divot had to remain in the terrain, unfilled, for the remainder of the game. The effect of the rule, not surprisingly, was to condition players to fill every divot 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 divot 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 divot before throwing its next boule. Usually the team’s pointer is the most compulsive about filling the divot. 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 divot. He does this even if the divot is so small that it is almost invisible. Even if no divot 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 probably think that almost always there is some kind of divot. And, really, the difference between a small divot and an imaginary divot is so small that it’s not worth making a fuss about.

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

In 2008, Article 10 changes, and that changes everything. Now players can fill a divot regardless of whether it was made by the last boule played. If you are a pointer and you see a divot near your donnée, you can fill it without worrying about whether it was created by the last boule played.

With time, players begin to regard filling a divot as something you do in preparation for the next throw rather than something you do as an automatic response to the last throw. As the general attitude toward divot-fixing changes, younger players become increasingly critical of players who fill divots when there is no immediate and obvious need to do so. They are especially critical of players who fill a divot 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 divot? Is it even legal to fill a divot if you are planning to shoot? Was there really a divot there, or were you just smoothing out the terrain? Even if there was a divot, weren’t you sweeping your foot much wider than was needed just to fill the hole?

Then things start to happen. In 2015, in some French competitions, umpires experiment with enforcing an “if you’re going to shoot you can’t fill a divot” 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 way of defining “sweeping” might be something like —moving around the dirt of the terrain with a sweeping motion of the leg and foot. But of course that captures only the physical motion. The crucial point is that, while it is legal to fill a divot, it is illegal to make any change to the terrain that goes beyond filling a divot— that goes beyond the minimum necessary to fill a divot.

So one definition of sweeping might be— pretending to fill a divot but moving around more of the dirt on the terrain than is actually needed to fill the divot. Another definition might be— smoothing out an area of the terrain under the pretense of filling a divot. Or we can say— “sweeping” is (a) using a sweeping motion of leg and foot (b) while pretending to be filling a divot (c) in order to change the terrain in an illegal way. Sweeping is therefore always illegal, regardless of where it is done and what you intend to do next. And in the expression “sweeping in front of a boule to be shot”, the only operative word is “sweeping”.

Note that the addition of the clause “especially in the case of sweeping in front of a boule to be shot” makes absolutely no change to the rules. Sweeping—making illegal changes to the terrain under the pretense of filling a divot—has always been illegal. But, you ask, if it changes nothing, why was it added?

We’ve said elsewhere that one of the problems with the FIPJP rules is that they are a mixture of game rules and umpire’s guidelines. The clause is not a game rule; it is an umpire’s guideline. Adding it to the rules doesn’t change the rules of the game. It changes the enforcement policy. Basically, the new clause 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 toward compulsive sweeping and divot filling are over.

At least that’s the theory.

Changes in enforcement policy are always difficult, and this change will be especially difficult. Deciding how much sweeping is acceptable for divot-fixing and how much is too much will always be a judgment call. Umpires will be reluctant to crack down on players based only on their own subjective judgments.

And players… Will they start asking umpires to come onto the terrain to verify that there genuinely is a divot to be filled, and that the player is filling it in an acceptable way? Will players start requesting that umpires fill the divots, to forestall any possible charge of sweeping?

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few years.