Challenging the jack

After reading a recent question on “Ask the Umpire” I’ve been thinking about the notion of challenging the jack. I’ve come to the conclusion that the notion of challenging the jack is completely bogus and we should stop using it.

The rule about challenging the jack is brief and cryptic. Article 7 lists the requirements for a thrown jack to be valid, but it doesn’t describe any procedures for determining whether or not the jack meets those requirements. In the next article, Article 8, we find this

If after the throwing of the jack, a first boule is played, the opponent still has the right to challenge (a encore le droit de contester) the validity of its position…. [But] If the opponent has also played a boule…. no objection is admissible.

If you read the rules carefully, you will notice that the rules never explicitly say that Team A, before it plays its first boule, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity. Article 8, however, assumes that Team A can do that, and Article 8’s concern is to make it clear that Team B may do the same thing— measure the jack to verify its validity before playing its first boule. If we combine what Article 8 says with what it assumes, the rule that we get is this.

Each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack—that is, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity.

The FIPJP rule as it currently stands is so obfuscated by bad writing and poor vocabulary choices (“challenge the jack”, “objection”) that it confuses both players and umpires. Questions are asked. After Team A has thrown the jack, while one of its players is standing in the circle and ready to throw the first boule, can Team B challenge the jack? If not, why not? If so, what is the correct procedure for doing it? If Team B challenges the jack, can Team A simply ignore the challenge?

All of these questions surfaced again recently, when Allen Cassady posted a question on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group. Here is a lightly-edited version of that post.

Albert, a player on Team A, throws the jack and then waits in the circle while a teammate marks the jack. During this pause, Bob, a player on Team B, says “the jack is too long.” (Bob did not measure or pace off the throw, not wanting to violate the Article 17 rule that “the opponents must not walk, gesticulate, or do anything that could disturb the player about to play.” He simply thought the jack was obviously too long and said so.)

Question #1. May Albert ignore Bob’s comment and proceed to throw his boule? Or, knowing that there is a disagreement as to the validity of the jack, must he stop and let the two teams measure the jack?

Question #2. Should the umpire warn/penalize Bob for violating the first sentence of Article 17, which requires players and spectators to observe total silence before a player plays his boule?

With respect to question #1, international umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was—

It would be in the best interest for Team A to check the validity of the jack before they throw their first boule, especially as Team B are already challenging its position. But your question is— Could Team A go ahead and play their first boule? The answer is YES.

Note that Mike describes Bob’s action as “challenging [the jack’s] position”, but then he says that Albert may ignore Bob’s “challenge”! But… surely if the idea of a right to bring a challenge is a meaningful one, a lawful challenge cannot simply be ignored. That’s why I suspect that Mike regards Bob’s comment simply as a casual remark, and not as a formal challenge. And I suspect that Mike’s answer accurately reflects the meaning and intent of Article 8. And I suspect that Article 8 contains nothing at all like a concept of formally challenging the jack.

If you accept the idea that Article 8 is trying to say that each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack, then the concept of “challenging the jack” simply drops out of the rules. And as it disappears it takes along with it all of the questions that it spawned. It becomes clear, for example, that Mike was right. Albert can ignore Bob’s comment, because there is no such thing in the FIPJP rules as formally challenging the jack. Bob’s casual remark was just that: a casual remark.

With respect to question #2 (Should the umpire warn/penalize Bob for violating the Article 17 rule requiring players and spectators to observe total silence before a player plays his boule?), note that the umpire’s job is to apply the rules appropriately, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each particular situation. In one set of circumstances, an umpire might think it appropriate to give Bob a yellow card. In another set of circumstances, he might not. In this particular case, Mike has no problem with Bob voicing his thoughts; Mike even thinks it was helpful to Team A. A yellow card is not appropriate in this case.

The bottom line is that Article 8 is badly written and misleading. The concept of challenging the jack is not a useful way of understanding Article 8, and we should stop using it. The rule (or if you prefer, the rule interpretation) that we should use is this.

Each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack— that is, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity.


Four-boule singles

When I watch petanque singles matches on Youtube, or play singles myself, I always find myself feeling vaguely dissatisfied. It feels like each mene (end, round) is over before it has properly begun. Or— each mene is being cut off prematurely, before reaching proper completion.

The problem, I think, is that the FIPJP rules specify that, in singles games, each player plays with only three boules. And what would solve the problem, I think, is for each player to play with four boules— 4-boule singles.

The notion of 4-boule singles is a natural idea, and it isn’t a new none. At the FIPJP world championships in Spa, Belgium in 1959, singles games were played with four boules.

Most players find the notion of 4-boule singles an appealing one. In 2016 BOULISTENAUTE.COM conducted an informal survey of world-class players. You can find it on Youtube, in a video called “Pétanque le TaT à 3 ou 4 boules? Interviews”. By a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1, top-ranking players said that they would prefer to play singles with 4 boules.

And of course the idea has a pleasing mathematical regularity.

3-player teams ==> 2 boules each
2-player teams ==> 3 boules each
1-player teams ==> 4 boules each

The bottom line is that in my opinion the FIPJP rules should be changed to specify that singles games are to be played with four boules, or at least to specify that singles games may be played with three or four boules.

Until that happens, nothing is stopping us from playing 4-boule singles in informal/social play. The rules of Petanque Libre, which are designed specifically for use in such games, allow players to play singles with whatever number of boules they wish, and actually specifies that singles will be played with 4 boules.

FIPJP rules specify that in singles games players play with 3 boules. PL rules specify 4 boules. This is a deliberately provocative specification, designed to encourage players to make a conscious decision about how many boules to use when playing singles.

As for practical considerations… petanque boules are normally sold in sets of three, but I don’t think that this is a serious impediment to the practice of 4-boule singles— we can simply play with boules from two different sets. Most serious players own at least two sets of boules, and, for more casual players, sets of leisure boules are inexpensive. And FIPJP rules do not require that all of a player’s boules to be from the same 3-boule set.