Throwing the jack to 6-10 meters

To start a mène (end, round) the winning team places the circle and then throws out the jack to a distance of 6 to 10 meters.

Article 7 says: “The distance that separates [the jack] from the interior edge of the throwing circle must be 6 meters minimum and 10 meters maximum for Juniors and Seniors.” In petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the rule says that the shortest distance between the inside edge of the circle and the front of the jack must be no less than 6 meters and no more than 10 meters.

The front edges of the two jacks in the picture (below) are at exactly 6 meters and 10 meters from the circle. Both jacks are valid. If the jack at 6m was a little closer to the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be less than 6m. If the jack at 10m was a little farther from the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be more than 10m.

It is important to be clear about the fact that the wording of the rule uses the concept of distance, not of area. The distance between the circle and the jack must be between 6 and 10 meters. Some players confuse this with the rule about a boule straddling the boundary line of a marked playing area. They imagine an area with boundaries at 6 and 10 meters from the circle, and think that the rule says that the jack must be at least partially inside the boundaries of that area in order to be valid.

Imagine a square on the lane going from 6 to 10 meters from the circle. When you throw the jack it is valid when even the smallest part of the jack is in the square, like a boule’s validity until it totally passes the dead-ball line.

thrown_jacks_inside_imaginary_square

According to this mental model, the jacks straddling the “lines” in the above drawing are valid. In fact, however, there are no lines on the ground to be straddled. The jack at about 6m is NOT valid because it is less than the minimum allowable distance (6m) from the circle. (The jack at about 10 meters IS valid because it does not exceed the maximum allowable distance, 10m.)

Sometimes players express the same confusion by asking: “Does ‘between 6 and 10 meters’ mean between 6 and 10 meters as measured to the front of the jack or to its back?” Again: in petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the answer is: the FRONT of the jack.

Which team starts the next game?

Question: In an informal setting, two teams play a series of games against each other. After a game is finished, which team throws out the jack to start the next game?

Here’s a story from Gary Jones.

When I first started learning the game, I didn’t have enough playing experience to know the most common way of playing, so I tried to glean my knowledge from the written rules. Since the rules say that the team that won the toss or the last scoring round throws the first boule, that’s the way we played– even from game to game. So we always played “Winner first.”

As an American, I had EXACTLY the same experience when I was learning the game. This year, however, we had a visiting player from France, Daniel. Daniel told us that in France they play “Losers start the next game.” I figured that since it was a French game, the French way must be the right way. But I wanted to make sure that Daniel had given us an accurate account of French tradition. So I checked with Raymond Ager, a British player who now lives in the south of France. He confirmed what Daniel had said.

I would say, in an informal setting, it’s for the players to agree such things among themselves. There is no ‘official’ rule but I think the convention that everybody adopts is that the losers of the last game start the next — in England players say, “Mugs away!”.

Another player, Andy Walker, confirmed the “Mugs away!” expression.

So there it is… The losing team starts the next game. French players can draw on long-standing oral tradition to help them when the written rules aren’t helpful. American players aren’t so lucky, and I suspect that Gary’s story and mine might be common in America. So I thought I’d write this post to help other American players who have had the same experience.

Mugs away!

UPDATE
After writing this post, I realized that I didn’t really know what “Mugs away!” means. A bit of internet research revealed that it is British slang (probably derived from the game of darts) and it means “Losers start!” It is what the winner of a game says to the loser, and it means basically “Let’s start (the next game). You play first.”

The word “mug” has some mildly derisive connotations.

The term ‘mug’ is simply an adoption of the common (UK) slang word ‘mug’, meaning a fool, a simpleton and especially a gullible ‘punter’ who is most likely to fall prey to a confidence trickster. (SOURCE)

It is a piece of mild one-upmanship, implying that since I (the speaker) just won, I can afford to be generous and give you (the loser, who fondly imagines he has a chance against the great me) the advantage of throwing first, although, of course, it won’t help you a bit. (SOURCE)

When the thrown jack is invalid

In January 2017, the CNA (Commission Nationale d’Arbitrage, the French National Umpires Committee) issued some comments on Article 6. The comments were in French, and so weren’t readily accessible to English-speaking players. In this post, I present an English translation of those comments. My English translation is loose but I think accurate. The original French documents can be found on the FFPJP website and also HERE and HERE. You can download a document with side-by-side French and English text HERE (docx) or HERE (pdf).


Decisions of the FIPJP National Umpires Committee
28 and 29 January 2017 in Marseille

Article 6
Concerning the throw of an invalid jack

After an invalid throw of the jack, the opposing team places the jack by hand.

It is forbidden to push the jack with the feet. The first time a player does this he will be given a verbal warning. For subsequent infractions, a penalty will be awarded.

This team [that places the jack by hand] should place the jack in conformity with the rules of the game. If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules. The jack is not given back to the team that threw it.

If a team loses the throw of the jack (because it wasn’t successful in throwing a valid jack) and the jack is moved by the first boule, the opposing team, which placed the jack, may not challenge the jack’s new location, regardless of whether or not the jack’s original location was marked.


In a comment on an earlier version of this article, Gary Jones wrote (February 8, 2018):

Thank you for sharing. I do have one comment. The clarification of Article 6 states, “If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules.” It should also be noted that the umpire would, in all likelihood, issue a WARNING (yellow card) to the team that failed in its obligation to place the jack in a valid position.


What is an obstacle?

The FIPJP rules use many terms without defining them. The worst offender in this regard is the word “obstacle”. “What is an obstacle?” is probably the most-frequently-asked question about the rules. So… What is an obstacle?

In the FIPJP rules, “obstacle” is not a technical term. It is an ordinary word that means, roughly, “something that interferes with the normal course of some activity or process.” The relevant activity or process must be inferred from the context. The context differs from rule to rule.

In most cases, an obstacle is just a thing

In most places in the rules where the word “obstacle” occurs, you could replace the word “obstacle” with the word “something” without changing the meaning of the rule.
Article 10 says that even though a player might want to pick up or push down an “obstacle” like a stone or a hump in the ground, he is not allowed to do so. In Article 19, an “obstacle” is something that is out-of-bounds, that a boule hits, which causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds. In Article 25, an “obstacle” is something on the terrain (a big rock, a tree root) that gets in the way of measurement.

There are two kinds of obstacles, however, that require special discussion. They are throwing obstacles (obstacles around the circle) and pointing obstacles (obstacles around the jack).

THROWING OBSTACLES, or: obstacles around the circle

Article 6 (on placing the circle) and Article 7 (on throwing the jack) say that the throwing circle must be at least one meter from any “obstacle”. The purpose of this rule is to move the circle away from features of the playing area that might interfere with a player’s normal throwing form. The most common kind of throwing obstacle are objects that might interfere with a player’s backswing. Trees, telephone poles, trash receptacles, walls, and crowd-control barriers count as throwing obstacles if they are too close to the circle. The category of “throwing obstacles” also includes features of the terrain that might interfere with a player’s footing. A patch of ground that is too irregular for a player to stand with a solid footing, a patch of slippery mud, a puddle of rainwater— all of these count as throwing obstacles.

Note that starting with the 2020 rules revision, the circle may not be placed closer than 1.5m to a circle or a jack in a game being played on an adjacent lane. On the other hand, it is legal to place the circle right against a dead-ball line— indeed, this is what you should do when an unmarked jack is shot across a dead-ball line at the end of a lane.

POINTING OBSTACLES, or: obstacles around the jack

Article 7 (in the 2020 version of the rules) says that the jack (after being thrown or placed) must be at least half a meter from any “obstacle” and at least half a meter from any end dead-ball line. This rule is designed to insure that it is possible for a player to point a boule anywhere within half a meter of the jack, in any direction from the jack. Here, a pointing obstacle is something (a tree, a wall, a wooden sideboard) that infringes on the open space around the thrown jack.

Note that starting with the 2020 rules revision, the jack may not be placed closer than 1.5m to a circle or a jack in a game being played on an adjacent lane. In addition, the jack may not be placed closer than 50cm from an end dead-ball line. It may be placed next to, but not touching, a side dead-ball line.

For some diagrams illustrating the new (post-2020) rules governing the placement of the circle and the jack, see this post.


There are a number of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) about obstacles.

Is a wooden surround a throwing obstacle? It might interfere with the backswing of a squat pointer.
Over the last few years, international umpire Mike Pegg has changed his position on this question. At one time he held that a wooden surround is not a throwing obstacle, because a squat pointer can always stand, rather than squat, when pointing. Then he held that that a surround that is higher than 25cm is a throwing obstacle because “at this height or higher it may impede a player”. Now (as of January 2021) his position is that— As a general rule, a player crouching or standing in the circle must be able to swing their arm backwards without touching anything. If they cannot, then the item preventing this action would be considered an obstacle.

His position is now the same as our position has always been. Players always should be able to use their normal throwing form, and to do so in safety. Normally a wooden surround is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but if a squat pointer expresses concerns when the circle is less than a meter from a wooden surround, the surround should be considered to be a throwing obstacle and the circle should be moved away from it before the jack is thrown. [See Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?]

Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle?
Petanque is sometimes played on a terrain without boundary strings, but completely enclosed by wooden sideboards. On such a terrain, the sideboard is a pointing obstacle if it is less than half a meter from the jack.

Are trees considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
YES. A tree trunk is both a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle.

Are tree roots considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Generally speaking: NO. They are considered to be features of the terrain, like rocks. There is no clear-cut rule however— in some cases it would be reasonable for the two teams to agree to consider a really large root a pointing obstacle.

Article 19 says that a boule is dead if it goes out-of-bounds, hits something, and bounces back onto the terrain. Are things above the ground “obstacles”? If a thrown (or hit) boule or jack hits something above the terrain, is it dead?
The answer is NO, it is not dead. The issue here has nothing to do with what is considered to be an obstacle. The relevant question is: “Are objects above the terrain out-of-bounds?” And the answer to that question is NO.

Think of the dead-ball lines as invisible walls that the dead-ball lines on the ground project up into the sky. If a ball stays inside those invisible walls— if it stays directly above the terrain— it stays in-bounds. That means that if a boule or a jack hits an overhanging tree branch, a low-hanging light fixture, or a boulodrome ceiling, and drops down onto the terrain without going through one of those invisible walls, it is still alive. The photograph (below) shows an outdoor boulodrome in Seaside, Florida. Note the low-hanging light fixtures. Most of the light fixtures are in-bounds and are therefore normal features of the terrain, just as rocks on the terrain are normal features of the terrain. If a boule hits one of those light fixtures and drops onto the terrain, the light fixture may be damaged but the boule will still be alive.

seaside_terrain_with_overhead_lights

Is there really any difference between a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle? Aren’t they all just “obstacles”?
Some things (e.g. a wall) can be an obstacle to both throwing and pointing, but that’s not true of all obstacles. In this photograph the jack is located less than half a meter from a large tree root. The root is big enough to constitute a pointing obstacle but not big enough to constitute a throwing obstacle. (Boules have been placed on the ground to give a sense of scale.)

In this photograph (below) the jack is located more than half a meter from the trunk of a mesquite tree, so the tree trunk isn’t a pointing obstacle. But at the start of the next mene the low branch, which is only about 4 feet above the jack, would make it impossible for a player to stand upright in a circle placed around the jack. That makes the tree branch a throwing obstacle— at the start of the next mene the circle would have to be moved a meter away from the branch.

Here is a similar situation. The rail fence isn’t a pointing obstacle; it is possible to point to within half a meter of the jack in any direction. But at the start of the next mene it will be a throwing obstacle— the circle will have to be moved a meter away from the fence.
petanque_throwing_obstacle_rail_fence

Post revised: 2021-01-28, to reflect the 2020 changes to the rules

When does a mene begin and end?

[Revised: 2021-06-10]
Currently (2021) the rule is—

One mene ends and the next begins when the last boule thrown in the mene comes to rest.

Before the 2020 rules changes, one of the frequently-asked questions about petanque was “When does a mene begin and end?” At that time petanque used two different models of when menes (“ends”, “rounds”) begin and end, so it’s not surprising that players were confused.

The official FIPJP rules of the game used the FIPJP Rules model. Under this model, a mene ended with the agreement of points, and the next mene started with the throw of the jack. Between the agreement of points and the throw of the jack, there was a break — a period of time between the menes.

A different model was used for time-limited games. In the Time-Limited Games model a single event marked the end of one mene and the start of the next. The event was specified by competition organizers in the rules for the time-limited games in the competition. For many years the Eurocup specified that the dividing event was the agreement of points. That changed a few years ago; now the Eurocup rule is: “A new end is considered to have started as soon as the last boule from the previous end has been played.” That rule was based on the one-minute rule in Article 21:

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…

The Petanque New Zealand umpire’s guide gives a clear explanation of the rule.

When the time signal is sounded, if all boules of the end have been played and have come to a stop… that end has finished (regardless of measuring and deciding points) and you have officially started the new end.

In 2020, the international umpires who write the rules decided that they wanted to have a single rule that would apply to all games— “normal” games as well as time-limited games. To do this, they discarded the old FIPJP model and adopted the time-limited games model for all games. So now (after 2020) players need to remember only one simple rule (found in Article 33) which I will paraphrase this way.

A mene ends (and the next begins) when the last boule thrown in the mene comes to rest on the terrain.

Note that if a thrown boule hits the jack out-of-bounds, the mene does not end when the jack crosses the dead-ball line; it ends when the thrown boule comes to rest on the terrain. If the thrown boule also rolls across the dead-ball line; the mene ends when the boule crosses the dead-ball line.


Throwing the jack (2016 rules)

One of the biggest changes in the 2016 version of the FIPJP rules is a change to the rules about throwing the jack. throwing_the_jack_madagascar_style2
Previously the rule was that the team that threw the jack (let’s call it team A) was allowed three attempts to throw a valid jack. (A valid jack, in this context, is a jack that comes to rest between 6 and 10 meters from the circle.)  If after three attempts team A had not succeeded in throwing a valid jack, it turned the jack over to team B, which was also allowed three attempts.  Basically, the two teams alternated in making three attempts until one of the attempts succeeded.

In the 2016 version of the rules, the team that throws the jack is allowed ONE attempt to throw a valid jack.  If it does not succeed, then the jack is turned over to the opposing team, which then has the responsibility of placing the jack.

Article 6: Start of play and rules regarding the circle

The team that won the right to throw the jack – either after the draw or because it scored in the previous mene – has the right to only one attempt [to throw the jack]. If it is not successful, the jack is given to the other team, which places it [the jack] wherever it wants within the conditions specified in the rules.

In the second sentence, note the use of the word “places” rather than “throws”. Team B is responsible for getting the jack on to the terrain in a valid location.  There are no rules about how team B does it.  The simplest and most reliable procedure is for a player to walk to the desired location, lean over, and use his hand to place the jack on the ground in the desired location.

The reason for this change is to speed up games.  According to Mike Pegg, each year at FIPJP tournaments there are problems with games taking too much time.  The one-throw-of-the-jack rule was used for a number of years in time-limited games, and it helped those games to proceed more quickly.  Trials of the rule in non-time-limited games were conducted at a number of European and world events, and a noticeable amount of time was saved each day.  Most teams quickly adapted to the new rule and were in favor of the change. Having passed these tests, the rule was officially adopted.


This change to the rules, like most changes, has generated questions. 

How does this affect the rules about challenging the jack?

There really are no significant changes to the rules about challenging the jack.  I’ve unpacked the new rules into six basic rule-scenarios. 

  1. After team A throws the jack, either team may challenge it.
     
  2. After team A throws the jack (apparently successfully) and throws the first boule, team A loses the right to challenge the jack.
     
  3. After team A throws the jack (apparently successfully) and throws the first boule, team B still has the right to challenge the jack. If the thrown jack is challenged and found to be invalid, team A is considered to have failed in its attempt to throw the jack, and team B places the jack.
     
  4. After team A throws the jack unsuccessfully, and team B places the jack, team B loses the right to challenge the jack.
     
  5. After team A throws the jack unsuccessfully, and team B places the jack, team A still has the right to challenge the jack. If team A challenges the placed jack and the placed jack is discovered not to have been placed in a valid location, team B is considered not to have accomplished its assigned task of placing the jack in a valid location and must place it again.  Basically, team B must keep placing the jack until they get it right.
     
  6. After team A throws the jack unsuccessfully and team B places the jack, and team A throws the first boule, team A loses the right to challenge the jack.

If team B places the jack, but places it in an invalid location (too short or too long), what should we do?

Scenario 5 answers a Frequently-Asked Question about the new rule— “If team B places the jack, but places it in an invalid location (too short or too long), what should we do?” The answer is— Team B should place the jack again. And they should try to do it properly this time! In an umpired game, placing the jack in an invalid location probably won’t earn team B a warning from the umpire. But it might. If (say) team B has repeatedly shown a casual attitude toward breaking the rules, the umpire might decide that it is time for a wake-up call and award a yellow card.

NOTE that the new rule does not answer The Pushed Jack Question. It has finally been resolved, but not by a change in the written rules (see THIS).

Can team B measure before placing the jack?

The answer is— if (say) team B wishes to place the jack at exactly 6m or 10m, they are allowed to measure before placing the jack. See THIS.

How does this change affect The Stepping-Back Rule?

It makes everything clearer. The old rule raised a lot of questions. “How many times can a team move the circle back?” “When does a team lose the right to move the circle back?” And so on. With the new rules, those questions go away.

  • When team A (the team that throws the jack) is ready to throw the jack, if the jack cannot be thrown to the maximum distance in any direction, team A can “step back” the circle in the traditional way.
  • When team B (the team that places the jack) is ready to place the jack, if the jack cannot be placed at the maximum distance in any direction, team B can “step back” the circle in the traditional way.

 
Criticisms of the new rule

There have been some serious criticisms of this change to the rules.

  • The change was made for the wrong reason— to improve the viewing experience of the TV-watching audience, rather than to improve the game itself.
  • It discourages cultivation of jack-throwing as a special skill, which some players treasure as a fine art.
  • It discourages aggressive attempts to throw the jack close to 10 meters. Players will begin throwing the jack to the bland and boring distance of 8 meters, rather than the exciting and challenging distance of 9.9 meters.

These criticisms seem to me to have some merit, but how serious they are— that is, how much the rule change will affect the way that players actually play— remains to be seen.


Redrawing the circle

Article 6 says –

One of the players of the team that won the draw chooses the starting point and draws or places a circle on the ground such that the feet of each of the players can fit entirely inside it. However, a drawn circle may not measure less than 35cm or more than 50cm in diameter.

A common question about this rule is –

I can’t fit my feet inside the circle that was drawn by the opposing team. What should I do? Can I redraw the circle myself?

The answer is NO, you can’t redraw the circle if it was drawn by the opposing team. The proper procedure is to point out that the circle is too small for your feet, and to ask the opposing team to redraw the circle.

Don’t be shy. 35 centimeters, the minimum legal size for a drawn circle, is about 14 inches. Unless you have unusually large feet, a circle that is too small to hold your feet was probably illegally small to begin with. If that is an issue, you can always take out your tape measure and measure it.

Remember… When deciding whether or not your feet fit inside the circle, you must be standing with your feet together, side by side.

petanque_redrawing_the_circle
There is a proper procedure for redrawing the circle.

  • Do NOT extend the old circle outward in one direction, so that it becomes an oval rather than a circle. The new circle should be as close to a proper circular circle as you can make it.
     
  • Draw the new circle so that (if it was drawn precisely) it would share exactly one point with the old circle, the point that was closest to the jack. Here is a diagram.

When the circle is redrawn, note that it doesn’t have to be redrawn so that it is a full 50cm in diameter. It only has to be big enough so that you can stand with feet together, side by side, and they fit entirely within the new circle.


Is it OK to leave unplayed boules on the ground behind the circle?

One of the questions that new players have is— What should I do with my unplayed boules? Is it OK for me to leave them on the ground behind the circle?

The answer is NO: it is not OK to leave them on the ground behind the circle. If you do, a player stepping out of the circle might step on them and injure himself— a fall, a sprained ankle, or worse.

So, what should you do with your unplayed boules? You have two options.

(1) If you are playing in an umpired game on a terrain with marked boundary lines, it is legal to leave unplayed boules on the ground OUTSIDE of the dead-ball line. If you do, you won’t get a warning from the umpire. Note, however, that even if it is legal, it is still not safe. Even outside the boundary line, boules on the ground will still be a tripping hazard.

MarcoFoyot_unplayed_boule_on_ground(2) Hold your unplayed boules in your hands. This is the best thing to do. If you don’t want to hold extra boules in your off hand while you throw, then, when it is your turn to throw, set them down on the ground beside (not behind) the circle. Step into the circle, throw, step out of the circle, and immediately pick up the extra boules … like Marco Foyot in this photo.

It may be acceptable in your local club to leave unplayed boules on the ground. But even if it is, be aware that you’re creating a safety hazard if you leave your boules on the ground. Leave them to the side of the circle (not BEHIND the circle) and far enough from the circle that other players aren’t likely to step on them while entering or leaving the circle.

Remember, a team always has the right to know how many unplayed boules are being held by the players on the opposing team. Never tuck unplayed boules out of sight, like in a pocket. Always hold them in your hands, where they can easily be seen by the opposing team.

When you need your hands to be free to measure a point, never set down an unplayed boule on the ground near the head while you measure. It is too easy for someone (you, probably) to get hurt by stepping on it, or (after measuring) for you to pick up the wrong boule by mistake. While you measure, leave your unplayed boules somewhere well away from the head and (preferably) wrapped in your boule towel. If you do that, there will be no question about where they are and what they’re doing there.

Finally, note that some groups have a local custom in which everyone leaves their unplayed boules on the ground beside the circle. One team’s boules are on one side of the circle, and the other team’s boules are on the other. If you find yourself playing with such a group, go with the flow. “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”


Recently on “Ask the Umpire” a player asked where he could find, in the FIPJP rules, the rule that unplayed boules may not be left on the ground inside of the dead-ball line, but may be left outside the line. You won’t find it explicitly stated in the rules, but I think that you can at least find its basis in Article 19, which says that dead boules should be removed from the terrain. Article 19 is the visible tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg, which is not visible, is a basic but unwritten rule that the only boules that should be on the terrain are boules that are “in the game”, i.e. boules that have been thrown and are still alive.


“Stepping back” to move the circle

[Revised 2021-04-18. The 2020 revision of the FIPJP rules reduced the minimum required distance of the thrown jack from an end dead-ball line from 1m to 0.5m. This reduced the maximum distance that you can back away from an end dead-ball line from 11m to 10.5m.]

In this post we look at the Stepping Back Rule in Article 7 and answer frequently-asked questions about it.

As we discuss the rule, we need to remember the context. The FIPJP rules are designed for FIPJP-sanctioned competitions. These competitions are typically played on rectangular lanes that are 4m wide and 15m long. Menes (ends, rounds) are played back-and-forth on these rectangular lanes, first in one direction and then in the other direction. [Note that in this essay, I use the word “former” to mean “in the previous mene”.]

Because of the limited length of the lanes, after placing the circle around the former location of the jack, players sometimes find that they can’t throw the jack to the maximum permitted distance (10m) because the circle is too close to one of the lane’s end boundary lines. The Stepping Back Rule is designed to deal with such situations.

Suppose that at the start of the first mene, the circle is placed close to the west end of the lane and the jack is thrown so that it lands exactly in the center of the lane. The lane is 15m long, so the jack is about 7.5m from each end line.

Team A wins the first mene, so it starts the second mene by placing the circle around the former location of the jack. The circle is now in the exact center of the lane.

The circle has a radius of 25cm, so one edge of the circle is 7.25 meters from the western end of the lane, and the other edge is 7.25 meters from the eastern end of the lane. In this situation, team A might like to throw the jack to 10 meters, but they cannot. Both the western and eastern ends of the lane are too close.

This is where the Stepping Back Rule comes in. Article 7 (which I’ve slightly reformatted) says—

If [and only if] there is no direction in which the jack can be thrown to the maximum distance… the player may step back, in line with the previous mene’s line of play, but without going beyond the maximum distance allowed for the throwing of the jack.

Note the “if and only if” clause. The Stepping Back Rule can be applied only if there is no direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10m. If there is any direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10m, the Stepping Back Rule cannot be used.

During a mene, the line of play is an imaginary line drawn from the circle through the jack. The former line of play is a line drawn through the circle’s current location and the circle’s former location, continuing on indefinitely in both directions. There is a place where this line crosses the end dead-ball line behind the circle’s former location— let’s call that place Q. So the player, facing the circle’s former location, steps backward along the former the line of play. While he’s stepping back, he’s looking at Q and keeping track of his distance from Q.

At any point he can stop or he can keep backing up, but if he reaches a point where he is 10.5 meters from Q, he is not allowed to back up any farther; he must stop and place the circle on the ground. Why 10.5 meters? That’s because a thrown jack must be at least half a meter (50cm) from any dead-ball line. Half a meter plus 10 meters (“the maximum distance allowed for the throwing of the jack”) gives a distance of 10.5 meters from Q. See diagram 4.

Note that invoking the Stepping Back Rule is completely optional— stepping back is permitted, but it is not required. A team doesn’t have to step back with the circle if they don’t want to. They can also move the circle only part of the maximum-allowed distance— they don’t have to move the circle the entire distance that is permitted.

Here are some frequently-asked questions about the Stepping Back Rule.

(Q1) If the former line of play crosses the lane at an angle, could a player stepping back be forced across the lane’s side boundary?

NO. You can’t place the circle outside of the lane. When “stepping back”, a player should back away from the circle’s former location (along path A in diagram 5) as long as it is possible to do so without crossing the lane boundary. Then the player should back away along the inside of the lane boundary line (along path B).

Remember that the player is backing away from the circle’s former location, but the location where he must stop is determined by his distance from Q.

(Q2) We’re playing on a big playing area. There are one or two directions in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters, but we don’t like any of them. We’d prefer to play back in the direction we just came from. But in that direction there is not enough room to throw the jack to 10 meters. Can we play in that direction, and invoke the Stepping Back Rule to move the circle back until we can play to 10m in that direction?

NO. You can play in any direction that you like, but since there are several directions in which you can throw the jack to 10 meters, you may not invoke the Stepping Back Rule. If there is any direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10m, the Stepping Back Rule cannot be used.

(Q3) Team A steps the circle back so that it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters. Then they throw the jack to a distance of only 8m from the circle. Is that allowed?

A: YES, that it is perfectly legal. Team A can throw the jack wherever they wish. Article 7 gives a rule for moving the circle, but it says nothing about where the jack may or may not be thrown after the circle is moved.

(Q4) After Team A is unsuccessful in throwing the jack, Team B steps the circle back so that it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters. Then they place the jack only 8m from the circle! Is that allowed?

A: YES, that it is perfectly legal. Team B can place the jack wherever they wish. See the previous answer.

(Q5) The rules assume that the lane has the shape of a rectangle, with some sides (the “sides”) being longer than others (the “ends”). The thrown jack must be at least 50cm from an end line, but it may actually touch a side line. Our terrain is a square— it has no “ends” or “sides”. What should we do?

A: The FIPJP rules assume that in stepping back along the former line of play, you are stepping back from an end line. You should assume the same. Treat whatever boundary line you are stepping back from as an end line.

(Q6) Team A’s throw of the jack is not successful, so it turns the jack over to team B. Can Team B move the circle before placing the jack by hand? Does it make any difference whether or not team A moved the circle before they threw the jack?

YES, team B can move the circle before placing the jack. NO, it doesn’t make any difference. Team B can move the circle whether or not team A had previously moved the circle.

(Q7) If team A moves the circle and then loses the jack, can team B move the circle closer to where it was before it was “stepped back” by team A?

NO. That wouldn’t be “stepping back”. As noted in the FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires (November 2015, Question 15), part of the purpose of the Stepping Back Rule is “to expedite play by increasing the chance that a valid jack might be thrown”. Allowing a team to move the circle CLOSER to its original location would have the opposite of the desired effect— it would decrease the chance that a valid jack is thrown.

The next two questions assume that the previous mene was played west-to-east. Team A has dropped the circle over the jack’s former location, and the situation in diagram 2 is now in effect.

(Q8) Can team A leave the circle where it is, and continue to play in the same direction, toward the east?

YES. It is legal to continue playing in the same direction, although it may not be practical. Note that the circle is only 7.25 meters from the eastern end of the lane. To continue playing toward the east, team A must throw the jack to a distance of between 6 and 6.75 meters (or a little more, if they play toward a corner). It is possible to do that, but difficult.

(Q9) Can team A step back the circle from the east dead-ball line, and then throw the jack toward the east?

NO. That would not count as stepping back along the former line of play. Remember— When moving the circle, you must be looking toward the circle’s former location and backing away from it.

Here is a diagram to help in understanding the next two questions.


A game is being played on an odd-shaped playing area— when the playing area was built, the edges of the area had to be routed around a group of trees. It’s an open terrain, not divided into lanes.

During the last mene, the circle was at location X. A freak hit knocked the jack back, very close to X. To start the next mene, John has placed the circle in its default location and is now is preparing to step back with the circle.

(Q10) Article 7 says: “If you can’t throw the jack to 10m, you can step back until you can.” As John steps back away from X, in a few steps he will get to location B. From location B, it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters (toward the center of the terrain). Does that mean that John must put the circle down at B?

A: NO. Note that “If you can’t throw the jack to 10m, you can step back until you can,” is a handy paraphrase of Article 7, but that is NOT what Article 7 actually says. Article 7 says that a player may step back along the line of play, without going beyond a certain distance from the dead-ball line. As long as John can’t throw the jack to 10m toward X, he can keep stepping back.

(Q11) Suppose that John places the circle in location A. Is he required to throw the jack back in the direction of X? Or can he throw the jack in some other direction, e.g. toward the center of the terrain?

A: Article 7 gives a rule for moving the circle, but it says nothing about where the jack may or may not be thrown after the circle is moved. John can throw the jack wherever he wishes.

POSTSCRIPT
Note that there are situations in which the circle MUST be moved. Suppose the lane is 12m long, The circle, which has been dropped over the former location of the jack, is exactly in the center of the lane. The circle must be moved in order to allow the jack to be thrown to the minimum distance of 6 meters.

The jack is dead – what do we do now?

There are a number of ways that a jack can go dead. It can be shot out-of-bounds. On an open terrain, the jack can be knocked behind a rock or tree so that it cannot be seen from the circle. And there are other ways, too.[1] When the jack goes dead, players face the question: “What do we do now?” That question down into three separate questions.

  1. Which team scores?
  2. Which team throws the jack at the beginning of the next mene?
  3. Where should the circle be placed at the beginning of the next mene?

Q1. When the jack goes dead, which team scores? ▲

The answer is —

  • If one and only one of the teams has unplayed boules, that team scores as many points as it has unplayed boules.
  • If both, or neither, of the teams has unplayed boules, then neither team scores any points.

A mene in which neither team scores any points is called a “scoreless mene” (une mène nulle or mène annulée). A scoreless mene is a perfectly normal mene in which (as it happens) neither team scores any points. It is like a baseball inning in which neither team scores any runs.


Q2. When the jack goes dead, which team throws the jack at the beginning of the next mene? ▲

The standard rule in Article 15 applies whether or not the jack went dead.

The first boule of a mene is thrown by a player belonging to the team that won the toss or was the last to score.

If one of the teams scored points, then that team won the mene and throws the jack at the start of the next mene. If the mene was scoreless, then the team that last scored points in some previous mene (in effect, the last team that moved its marker on the scoreboard) throws the jack.

Before the 2016 rules revision there was a bad rule-of-thumb that confused many players. “The team that threw the jack at the start of the scoreless mene throws the jack to start the next mene.” The problem with this rule was that it was ambiguous. Suppose that the mene started with team A trying three times, unsuccessfully, to throw the jack. Team B then successfully threw the jack.  In such a situation, which team “threw the jack at the start of the mene”? Team A or team B? Hopefully, with the 2016 rules revisions, players will forget this bad rule.


Q3. When the jack goes dead, where should the circle be placed at the beginning of the next mene? ▲

Here is the basic rule.  I discuss it in more detail in the post on Placing the circle after it is shot out of the terrain.

At the beginning of a mene, the circle is drawn or placed on the assigned lane, in the place that is closest to the last place where the jack was still alive during the previous mene.

That means that –

  1. If at the end of the previous mene the jack was still alive and on the assigned terrain, then the circle is placed around its location on the assigned terrain.
  2. If at the end of the previous mene the jack was still alive but located on a neighboring terrain, then the circle is placed on the assigned terrain, as close as possible to the jack’s location on the neighboring terrain.
  3. If at the end of the previous mene the jack had been knocked out-of-bounds, then the circle is placed on the assigned terrain, as close as close as possible to the place where the jack crossed the dead-ball line.

 


FOOTNOTES

[1] The jack can die without crossing the dead-ball line if—

  1. it is knocked behind something (e.g. a tree) so that it can't be seen from the circle
  2. it ends up on the far side of a patch of "dead ground"
  3. it is knocked closer than 3m to the circle
  4. it is knocked more than 20m from the circle
  5. is knocked into a pool of water so deep that it floats

In the first four cases, the standard rules apply and the circle is placed according to the normal rules for the placement of the circle.  In the last case, any puddle of water that is deep enough to float the jack would be considered a throwing obstacle, so the circle would be placed one meter away from the edge of the puddle.