To understand petanque at the strategic level, you need to understand the concept of “the boule advantage”.
The basic idea is simple — the team with the most unplayed boules “has the boule advantage”. If your team has two unplayed boules, and my team has four, then my team has the boule advantage.
Digging a bit deeper
It is possible to provide a precise definition of the boule advantage.
At any point during a mene, a team has the boule advantage if, assuming that it plays perfectly from that point forward, that team will play the last boule in the mene.
At the start of a mene, the second team to play always has the boule advantage. You can often see this in world-championship games. Team A points the first boule, and Team B shoots it with their own first boule. Team A points their next boule and Team B shoots it with their next boule. Point. Shoot. Point. Shoot. The teams alternate gaining the point until Team A points their last boule. This leaves Team B to play the last boule of the mene. They shoot or point with their last boule and often win the mène.
In short, if you think of a mène as a conversation, then the team with the boule advantage is the team that gets to “have the last word” in that conversation.
Among world-class players, the “point, shoot, point, shoot” pattern is so predictable that often the best way to follow the game is to watch for cases in which a team fails to play perfectly and requires two or more throws to gain the point. The real drama in a world-championship game is in the shot that just barely misses, and the pointing throw that doesn’t quite gain the point. Such failures turn over the boule advantage to the opposing team. At this level of play, losing the boule advantage can mean losing the mène.
To point? or to shoot? Some strategic considerations
Suppose that your team has two pointers and one shooter. The opponents throw the jack and point a very nice first boule… it is close to the jack and is going to be very hard to out-point. What do you do?
- Should you ask your shooter to try to shoot it?
- But… it is very early in the mene, and the opposing team still has five boules. Should you point, and save your shooter for an emergency?
This is petanque’s classic question — to point, or to shoot? If you decide to point, you may end up with another classic situation— your team ends up throwing all of its boules, trying to out-point the opponents’ opening boule. After you’ve done it, you realize that you’ve lost the boule advantage big time. The opposing team still has five boules that it can play without fear of any response from your team. And you realize in retrospect that you should have used your shooter to try to shoot that opening boule.
If this happens to you, here’s how you should think about the situation.
- Your team started with the boule advantage. You might have kept the boule advantage if you had brought out your shooter and shot the opposing team’s opening boule. Even if it took your shooter more than one attempt, it would have been worth it to get rid of that dangerous opening boule.
- In deciding not to shoot, you not only lost the advantage, you gave the advantage to your opponents, to the tune of five boules. With a boule advantage that big, they are almost certainly going to score several points and win the mene.
The moral of this story is that one of your highest priorities should be NOT to lose the boule advantage. And that can sometimes mean using your shooter very early in the mene.
The Forgotten Boule and the Boule Advantage
Suppose that there are a lot of boules on the ground. Your team has the point, so you ask the opponents if they have any unplayed boules. They look around and then say “No, we’re out”. So you play your last boule. As you’re walking to the head to count your points, one of the opposing players says “Ooops! I made a mistake. I still have one boule left!” What should you do?
You can say “It was an honest mistake. Go ahead. Play your last boule.” But giving away your team’s boule advantage in this way would be a big mistake. With their last “forgotten” boule, your opponents can do all sorts of mischief and win the mene. So a good general rule is that a forgotten boule— even in friendly play— cannot be played. See our discussion of dealing with a forgotten boule.