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.

7 thoughts on “Challenging the jack

  1. As you say Jules, each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack – that is, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity. This makes perfect sense.

    • I agree. It really does seem to be quite straightforward, simple, and sensible. I think there are a number of places in the rules where the rule itself is simple and sensible, but the description of the rule is so garbled that it is almost impossible to understand!

  2. If Team A declares the position of the jack is valid then Team B should have the right of an immediate challenge. Locally, Team A usually paces out the distance to the jack to check that it is valid. We recommend that Team B uses a tape measure if they challenge the distance. Earlier we’ve had teams argue the validity of the jack where both teams were pacing out the distance – ludicrous!

    • Hi kimbo,
      I definitely agree. If Team A paces out the distance to the jack, they are estimating the jack’s distance, but of course they can’t “declare” the jack to be valid without properly measuring it. Similarly, if Team B paces out the distance to the jack, they are estimating the jack’s distance, not measuring it. Arguing the validity of the jack where both teams are pacing out the distance – I agree, that really is ludicrous!

  3. What if Bob would have commented: “I think the jack is short”, and team A nevertheless continues to throw their first boule, taking the jack from 5.97 to 6.32 metres?
    Should Bob have announced “I challenge the jack”, or would this remark have been enough to stop team A from playing? What if he had used this second wording, and team A still would have thrown its first boule?

    • Hi Boudewijn,
      The FIPJP rules now require the jack always to be marked, so let’s assume that Team A has thrown and marked the jack. Bob comments that he thinks the jack is short, but Albert throws his boule anyway, and his boule moves the jack. It is now Team B’s turn to throw. Before throwing, they decide to measure. They measure to the mark and determine that the jack was indeed short/invalid. You can fill in the rest…

      Suppose, however, that this is an informal or social game, and Team A doesn’t mark the jack before throwing its first boule. When Team B decides to measure the jack, they measure to the jack’s current location and they determine that the jack, at 6.32 meters, is valid. Again, you can fill in the rest…

      In such a case, we’re inclined to feel that something has gone wrong– that the rules SHOULD contain some verbal formula (perhaps “I challenge the jack”) that would FORCE Albert (on penalty, perhaps, of throwing his boule “contrary to the rules”) to stop and respond to the challenge. But the fact is that the rules simply do not contain anything like that— the rules don’t say anywhere what counts as “challenging the jack”.

      In my opinion, that’s because the FIPJP rules really do not contain anything like the concept of formally challenging the jack. That explains why the rules simply provide no answers to the questions in your second paragraph.

  4. Instead of only giving the opportunity to measure the distance to the jack, I would have preferred to give the opportunity to investigate that the jack fulfils all requirements in article 7 (which, by the way, includes a criterion 2) that only has to do with the position of the circle).

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