Time-limited games

[revised 2022-01-02]
All big competitions have the same problem. Even with a single-elimination format, many rounds of games must be played in order to reduce the field of competitors to the eight teams that will play in the quarter-finals. All of the games in a round must have finished before match-ups between the survivors can be arranged and the next round can begin. This means that if even one game in a round goes on for too long, the entire competition is brought to a halt, waiting for that game to finish. [But see the comment by Jac Verheul.]

The problem for big competitions, then, is to devise a way to play short-form games— games that can be played in a limited and predictable amount of time.

Short-form games

There are three ways that you can play a short-form game.

  • You can play to a winning score of less than 13.
  • You can limit the time allowed for the game.
  • You can limit the number of menes (ends) played.

In the last two cases, if the allotted amount of time or number of menes has completed and the score is tied, then an additional tie-breaker mene must be played to decide the winner.

Note that the idea of a tie-breaker mene isn’t as simple as it seems. Playing one additional mene can not guarantee that that the tie will be broken. In fact, it cannot guarantee that the game will ever finish. If the jack is shot out-of-bounds while both teams still have unplayed boules, the mene is scoreless— the tie remains unbroken and another mene must be played. In theory, it is possible for the two teams to play an infinite series of scoreless menes without breaking the tie.

In order to guarantee that a game will finish in a finite amount of time, it is necessary to invent the idea of (what I will call) a Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene. This is a special kind of mene in which the jack is not allowed to go dead. If the jack is hit out-of-bounds, it is put back on the terrain and the game continues. (If it was marked, it is put back on the mark. Otherwise, it is put on the terrain near the spot where it crossed the dead-ball line.)

The competition organizer specifies the rules for short-form games

Short-form games are considered to be part of the way a competition is organized, so specifying the rules for short-form games is the responsibility of the competition organizer.

The CEP (Confédération Européenne de Pétanque) is the organizer of the Eurocup, and other competition organizers look to the Eurocup as a model for organizing their own competitions. The CEP’s choice for a short-form game is a time-limited format.

At first, when playing time-limited games, when the time-limit was announced (by a whistle, say), any mene in progress was played to its finish. At that point, if one of the teams was in the lead, then that team was the winner. If the score was tied, one additional tie-breaker mene was played. But there was a problem. As a game approached its time-limit, the team in the lead would often deliberately play slowly, “running out the clock” and limiting their opponents’ opportunities to score more points. The CEP apparently considered this tactic to be contrary to the spirit of the game. Mike Pegg reports

When timed games were first introduced, one more end was played after the whistle was blown. Teams would deliberately play slowly, taking a full minute etc., so that the opponent had no chance of winning or drawing with them. To prevent this sort of tactic, it was decided to allow for two extra ends.

In this new model, games are played to the normal winning score of 13. Any game that hasn’t finished when the time limit is reached, then switches to a limited-number of menes model. Basically, a “time-limited” game is a game in which reaching the time limit triggers a switch into a different mode of play.

  1. Games are played as they normally are. When one team achieves the winning score of 13, the game is declared to be finished and the team that achieved the winning score is declared the winner.
  2. For any game that is still in progress when the time-limit is reached, the teams finish playing the mene that is currently in progress. At that point, if neither team has achieved a winning score, the game switches to a limited-number of menes model in which the allowed number of menes is limited to two.

    Note that “the game is still in progress” means that neither team has reached the winning score (13 points) so the game has not yet finished.

    Note that any game that is still in progress, whether or not the score is tied, will go on to play two extra ends. The two extra ends, therefore, are not tie-breaker ends. They are meant to give the game a few more ends (rather than a little more time) in which to finish.
  3. If, after either of these two extra menes, one team achieves the winning score, the game is declared to be finished and the team that achieved the winning score is declared the winner.
  4. For any game that is still in progress after the two extra ends, if one team has a score that is higher than the other team’s score, the game is declared to be finished and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.
  5. For any game that is still in progress after the two extra ends, if the score is tied, the game plays a third, Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene. After that mene, the game is declared to be finished and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.

Here’s how the CEP rules for timed, Swiss system games describe it.

[The time limit is 75 minutes for a triples game, 60 minutes for a doubles game, and 45 minutes for a singles game.]

[A]t the end of the time limit the current end should be completed plus two more ends. In the case of equal scores after the two additional ends, the teams will play one more end. During this extra end, the jack cannot become dead (out of play). If the jack goes out of the defined playing area it will be put back in its original position, or if that is not marked then in the nearest valid place to where it went out of play.

Here’s how the FIPJP competition rules for the world championships describe it, in Article 19 of Règlement des Championnats du Monde.

All games in the World Championships are played to 13 points, with the exception of games to which a time limit is applied. [For world championship games, the time limit is 75 minutes for a men’s triples game, 60 minutes for any other kind of triples game, 60 minutes for a doubles game, and 45 minutes for a singles game.] If neither team has reached 13 points before the end of the fixed time, it will be contested for up to two additional ends. In the event of a tie at the end of the extra ends there will be a final end in which the jack, if it can be moved, will never be dead.

A problem with the idea of a guaranteed tie-breaker

There is a problem with these rules for time-limited games. The “guaranteed” tie-breaker does not guarantee that the tie will be broken after the third mene. The fact that the jack cannot go dead does not mean that one team must score. There can be a null point at the end of the third mene (an equidistant boules situation, or an empty terrain situation), which means that neither team scores, and the two scores remain tied.

It may be argued that something that is so unlikely to happen is nothing to worry about. But as an ex-computer programmer, I know that if there is a loophole in a set of rules so that a problem CAN happen, it WILL happen. The only question is about how long it will be before it happens. This is true of computer programs, and it is true of the rules for time-limited games.

Some interesting, unintended consequences

In time-limited games, all boundary lines are dead-ball lines. Before 2020, that meant that a thrown jack had to be at least a meter (sometimes: at least half a meter) from a side dead-ball line. But in 2020 the rules changed. Now a jack can be thrown right next to a side dead-ball line. And that has introduced an interesting new tactic into time-limited games.

Now, at the start of an extra mene, it is common for a team with a higher score to throw the jack very close to the side string. And then, rather than pointing with their first boule, they shoot the jack out-of-bounds. This finishes the extra mene without changing the score and without affecting the team’s lead. With this tactic, a team that has a good shooter and is leading at the beginning of the first or second extra mene has virtually won the game.


11 thoughts on “Time-limited games

  1. From above:
    “1. Up until the time-limit is reached, a game uses a time-limited model.
    2. If at that time the score is tied, the game switches to a limited-number of menes model for two ends.
    3. If at that time the score is tied, the game plays a third, Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene.”

    I believe your statement #2 to be wrong. It does not matter whether the game is tied when the whistle blows to signify the time limit has been reached. The intent is to allow two more menes of play even if the game is not tied. –Gary

    • Hi Gary,
      You are absolutely correct. Thanks MUCHO for catching the error! 🙂
      I’ve re-written the incorrect parts of the post— from the words “In this new model…” to the end of the numbered list. I’ve tried to be absolutely clear about how things work, so the numbered list has grown a bit.

  2. It’s not true that all of the games in a round must have finished before match-ups between the survivors can be arranged and the next round can begin. Or, in other words, before the draw of the next round can be done.

    In France they use numbers for each game in the next round. This number can be drawn two times by two different winners of a round (or losers if there is a losers tournament). As soon as a number has been drawn for the second time, the new game between these teams can start and you don’t have two wait until all games in that round have finished.

    Normally, long games will be followed by shorter ones. It’s a smart way to do the draws in this way in order to win time, instead of shorten the games themselves.

    With the same result, you can also use so-called ‘KO-trees’ with just one draw at the beginning of a tournament. Big disadvantage: teams will know from the beginning who may be their next opponents… To avoid this, you can use the so-called ‘Moroccan schedules’, with which it’s more difficult to predict who will be your next opponent.

      • Hi Steve,

        I saw this way of draw for the first time 25 years ago when I accompanied a Dutch team that was invited by the former French magazine Sport Petanque to participate on the National tournament of Poitier, March 1987. Our team had beaten the French champions at the World Championship 1986 in Epinal, the legendary Bébert de Cagnes…

        In the beginning I understand nothing how the draw was done, but after several minutes of looking very well, the penny dropped! Some time later I described and explained the method in the Organizers Manual that I wrote for the Dutch federation. About 8 years again, I made a new version with the ‘Moroccan’ schedules (that I got from a Moroccan friend and I made Dutch versions of it).

        But it’s a pity, or not to say a big shame, that not many clubs in the Netherlands use it. Most tournaments here are based on a damned ‘system‘ of five games that are drawn before, without taking into account the results of the games… That’s life also…

        Cheers, Jac

  3. Hi Jules – excellent article as usual.

    What happens in a Tie-Breaker situation if both ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’s’ nearest boule are equidistant?

    Probably nonsensical but for ‘non-timed games’, what if a whistle were to blow after the conclusion of the first game to finish in that round? The rest of the pairings would then have to complete the end they are on plus one or two extra ends.

    Also, can anyone enlighten me on the so called ‘Moroccan Schedules’?

    • Jac says that he got the idea from a Moroccan friend, so he called them “Moroccan” schedules. I’ll bet that that term isn’t known very widely.

      Jac has sent me information about the method. Basically, it is a way to set up a double-elimination competition, with a concours (A) tournament and a consolante (B) tournament. Losers of the concours don’t move to the consolante. They either get eliminated or (depending on how the competition is set up) they move to another set of tournaments, C and D.

      I think that this is probably similar to the system used at the Petanque America Amelia Island Open, which also, as I recall, has tournaments A, B, C, and D.

      Jac has built an Excel spreadsheet which, if you’re comfortable with Excel, should make it easy to create a schedule for a competition. There also may be a features of the method itself that make it especially easy to set up, but I’ll have to study it more before I can be sure of that. I will create a post to share the spreadsheet, but not now… I’m super busy this month.

    • What happens if a Guaranteed Tie-Breaker end (mène) ends in a null point? For example, in an equidistant boules situation?

      I don’r know — the rules don’t say. The umpire needs to have a winner, so I’m guessing that the umpire would make an ad hoc decision— tell the teams to play another mène and hope for a winner. But that’s just a guess. And of course, umpire A might decide differently from umpire B.

    • What if the whistle was blown after the conclusion of the first game to finish? Rather than after a specific amount of time?

      An interesting idea! Since nobody could predict when the whistle would blow, in theory it should prevent the “time-wasting”, “running out the clock” behavior that bothered the EuroCup organizers. And that might open up all sorts of other interesting theoretical possibilities.

      I don’t think it would help very much with the major problem, which is not so much that games are taking TOO MUCH time as that games are taking an INCONSISTENT amount of time, with some games finishing quickly and others going on almost forever.

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