2020 rules – new rules about placing the circle and the jack

revised 2021-05-30
[For other posts about the 2020 rules and changes to the rules, see THIS.]
The FIPJP rules have changed. Article 7 of the 2020 version of the rules makes dramatic changes to the rules about where the circle and the jack can be thrown or placed. Basically, the new rules specify minimum required distances from three things— boundaries, other games, and obstacles.

Previously, the rules defining the landing strip were quite complex. Now there is only one simple rule. The jack can be thrown or placed anywhere on the assigned lane, except within 50cm of an end (short side) of the lane.

There is no longer any requirement that a jack must be a minimum distance from a side line or a dead-ball line. As long as the jack is touching the ground of the assigned lane, it is valid. It can touch a side line, and even extend over it, and still be valid. (A thrown jack is not like a hit jack, which can be resting on ground outside the dead-ball line and still be good.)


Other games
The rule now is simple. The circle and jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack.

Formerly, the circle and the jack had to be at least 1 meter from any obstacle. The distance for the jack was reduced to 50cm, so now the minimum distance from an obstacle is different for the circle and the jack.

  • The circle must be at least 1 meter from any obstacle.
  • The jack must be at least 50cm from any obstacle.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: there are 4 simple rules.

  1. The jack can be thrown or placed anywhere on the assigned lane, except within 50cm of an end of the lane.
  2. The circle and jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack.
  3. The circle must be at least 1 meter from any obstacle.
  4. The jack must be at least 50cm from any obstacle.

Worst-case scenarios under the new rules
The new requirement that the jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack, has raised concerns that it would create problems, especially when playing on a narrow 3-meter-wide lane.

One worst-case scenario occurs with active jacks in neighboring games kissing the boundary strings on both sides. The full width of the lane is available only if you throw the jack to 6-7 meters. There is no place on the lane where you can throw the jack to 8.5 meters. (In this diagram, pink areas show the landing strip for the jack.)

Perhaps the very worst scenario is this one. The neighboring jacks are offset from each other, so that there is virtually no place where the landing strip extends the full width of the lane.

Obviously, such situations will be extremely rare. But they are possible.

The string is not the boundary line

A playing area contains an indefinite number of terrains defined by strings… —Article 5 – “Playing areas and regulation terrains”

Boundary lines are like invisible walls rising up from the ground, separating lanes from other lanes and from out-of-bounds areas. When the authorized officials lay out the lanes in the playing area, they are in a sense doing two things— installing the invisible walls, and installing strings to show players the locations of the walls.

A string shows the location of a boundary that was installed by the authorized officials. But the string itself, as a physical object, is not the boundary line, and moving it does not move the boundary line.

Recently a question was posed to international umpire Mike Pegg.

A boule moving rapidly toward the out-of-bounds line is caught by the boundary string. The string stretches and then, like a bowstring launching an arrow, pushes the boule back onto the terrain. Like this.
boule_stretches_stringIn the scenario depicted in the picture, did the ball cross the boundary line or not? Is the boule dead or alive?

Mike answered

[T]he boule would be considered live if it has not fully crossed the dead ball line. … In the diagram the boule has not crossed the line…. so it is not dead.

In Mike’s view, the string is the boundary line. It follows that if a boule moves a string, it moves the boundary line.

I disagree. In my view—

  1. The string is not the boundary line.
  2. Anybody or any thing can move the string. But the boundary moves only when the string is installed or moved by an authorized official.
  3. In the diagram, the boule moved the string. But it did not, and could not, move the boundary line.
  4. The boule completely crossed the boundary line. Therefore, it is dead.

The Puddle Rule

Article 9 contains a sentence that I call the Dead Ground Rule

[The jack is dead] when an out-of-bounds area (un terrain interdit) is situated between the jack and the throwing circle.

It also contains another sentence that I call the Puddle Rule.

A puddle of water in which the jack floats freely is considered to be out-of-bounds (terrain interdit).

In the standard interpretation of these sentences, the Dead Ground Rule is the setup (if there is dead ground between the circle and the jack, the jack is dead), and the Puddle Rule delivers the punch (a puddle is to be considered dead ground). The logical implication is that if there is a puddle (a pool of standing rainwater deep enough to float a wooden jack) between the circle and the jack, the jack is dead.

There are also a couple of implications of the Puddle Rule that aren’t so obvious. (1) Because a puddle is dead ground, when throwing the jack a player must throw the jack at least a meter from such a puddle. (2) A boule that rolls into a puddle is dead, regardless of where the jack is on the terrain.

If you diagram the Dead Ground Rule and the Puddle Rule, you see a puddle casting a sort of “shadow of death” that kills any jack that enters it. (Note, however, that the shadow is not dead ground, and it has no effect on boules.)jack_dead_behind_puddle

There are practical problems with applying the Puddle Rule. You may need a spare wooden jack so you can determine whether a puddle is deep enough to float a jack. It may be difficult to determine the exact edge of the puddle, and to distinguish that edge from the edges of other nearby puddles. (The exact edge may be important, because it is what determines the edge of the shadow of death.) And you may need to do it in the rain, with the size and depth of the puddle constantly changing.

I think that if we look at the history of these two sentences, we can guess what the original intent of the Puddle Rule was. The Puddle Rule was added to the (then French national) rules in 1970. Probably the French umpires added the rule as a way of telling players what to do when it was raining and the jack was knocked into a pool of rainwater on the terrain. In 1970 Article 9 already contained the rule that the jack is dead if it is knocked onto dead ground. So the umpires simply added a sentence saying that a puddle should be considered dead ground. It was a quick-and-dirty way to add a rule saying that a jack floating in a pool of rainwater is dead.

Twenty-five years later, in 1995, the Dead Ground Rule was added to the rules. Probably it was meant to apply to games played on terrains with bends and indentations in the boundary lines. I don’t know if the umpires of 1995 intended that the new Dead Ground Rule should cause puddles to cast shadows of death, but that is what it did.

Now, if you ask an umpire, he will tell you that any kind of water on the terrain— including culverts, streams, fish ponds, and water fountains— counts as a puddle (flaque d’eau) under Article 9.

That seems to me to be a pretty stupid way to interpret the Puddle Rule, because I often play on open terrains where streams and rivulets are natural features of the terrain. But umpired competitions are usually played on nice orderly terrains, without streams runing through them, so it doesn’t seem to bother the umpires.

Note that the organization that grafted the Puddle Rule onto Article 9 in 1970 was the French national umpires committee (CNA), working on the French national rules. The French national rules were adopted as the FIPJP international rules in 1984.

The illustration labeled "CNA-FFPJP-2013" is from a presentation (diaporama) by the French national Umpires Committee (CNA) called Apprendre les règles de la pétanque ("Learn the rules of petanque") which can be downloaded from the ffpjp-nord.info web site.

Before the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, the American (FPUSA) version of the Puddle Rule was "A jack floating freely in water is dead." However, in early 2017 the FPUSA lost that version of the Puddle Rule when it adopted the 2016 FIPJP rules "as written" as its national rules. That was a pity, because the FPUSA's old version of the Puddle Rule actually captured the original, 1970, intent of the rule.

See our other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

The “landing strip” for a thrown jack

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

updated 2021-05-25
The rules governing the thrown jack were dramatically changed in the 2020 revision of the FIPJP rules. Under the current (2020) rules, the landing strip covers the entire lane except for two small areas, 50cm deep, at each end of the lane. For more about the new rules, see THIS.
The information in this post is now obsolete. The post has been retained for any historical interest that it might have.

Article 7 specifies a number of distance-related constraints on a thrown jack. One of them is that “the jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from … the nearest boundary of an out-of-bounds area.”   This can create a problem on narrow lanes.

We are playing on a marked terrain that is 3 meters wide. Does the one-meter rule in Article 7 mean that the area where we can legally throw the jack— the “landing strip” as it were— is only one meter wide running down the middle of the terrain?

The answer to the question is “Yes, but it really depends on whether or not the terrain’s side lines are also dead-ball lines.”

The landing strip

Suppose that we have a playing area that contains only one marked terrain (one lane, piste, cadre), so that the boundary lines of all four sides are dead-ball lines. The lane is 4m wide and 15m long. If we measure one meter in from each of the four boundaries, then we have a landing strip in the middle of the lane that is 2m wide and 13m long. If the lane is only 3m wide, the landing strip is only one meter wide.

Things get more interesting when we have a big playing area that we divide into a grid of lanes using strings. The strings around the exterior of the grid, and the strings across the short ends of the lanes, are dead-ball lines. The other strings (the ones that cut up the playing area up into separate lanes) are “guide lines”— they indicate the boundaries of the lanes, but they aren’t dead-ball lines.


Look at lane A. On its left side is an exterior dead-ball line; on its right side is a neighboring lane (B). So the landing strip for lane A is lop-sided. On one side, the landing strip stays one meter from the exterior dead-ball line, but on the other side it goes right up to the guide line with lane B. If the lanes are 4m wide, the landing strip for lane A is 3m wide, but the landing strip for lane B extends the full width of the lane and is 4m wide.

When the landing strip is too narrow

There are other situations where the landing strip is only one meter wide. Under FIPJP rules, region competitions may be played on a lane that is only 3m wide. And in time-limited games, all four boundaries of a lane are considered to be dead-ball lines. This means that in a time-limited game on a lane 3m wide— a common situation— the landing strip for each lane is only one meter wide.

This can happen even in games without time limits, if the lanes are arranged in a long strip. This kind of arrangement is quite common for competitions that are played on long, narrow areas like the paths in a public park or along a waterfront.

In order to deal with the problems of a too-narrow landing strip, many competitions reduce the jack’s required minimum distance to half a meter from a side dead-ball line. So even on a lane that is only 3m wide, the landing strip will still be at least 2m wide.

In 2016, the FIPJP adopted this practice for time-limited games— now Article 7 says— The jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from any obstacle and from the nearest edge of an out-of-bounds area. This distance is reduced to 50cm in time-limited games, except for lines at the foot of lanes.

Barriers and wooden surrounds

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

The word “barriers” occurs only once in the official FIPJP rules, in Article 5.

When the terrains of play are enclosed by barriers, these must be a minimum distance of 1 meter from the exterior line of the playing area.

“Barriers” here means fences or crowd-control barriers, either temporary or permanent, whose purpose is to keep spectators off of the playing area. Such fences are often portable steel barriers installed temporarily at tournaments. But they may also be permanent barriers that are parts of the architecture of a boulodrome.

Note that the word “barriers” does NOT refer to low wooden surrounds (ball stops, backboards) designed to keep boules from being knocked out of the playing area. Traditionally, such wooden surrounds were simply wooden boards, held in place by big nails driven into the ground. Such wooden surrounds are often made out of recycled railroad ties (“sleepers” in British English).

Here are some photos that show barriers at petanque matches.

This is a shot from La Folie Pétanque, a film about petanque by Bruno Evenou. The gentleman in the foreground is a team coach — that’s why he is allowed to sit between the steel barriers (left) and the wooden surround.

Note the string marking the out-of-bounds line — it is about 30cm inside the wooden surround. The area where the coach is sitting is quite narrow — perhaps 70cm. Just enough to allow 1 meter between the out-of-bounds string and the barriers.

Here is a photo from a 2009 championship match in Düsseldorf.
The barriers appear to be permanent fixtures in an indoor boulodrome.

A petanque tournament at Metz. The players at the left are forming the couloir along the chalk out-of-bounds line. Immediately behind their heels is the wooden surround.

Beyond the surround and the blue walkway is the barrier, which seems to be composed of large placards. Behind the barriers sit the spectators and an orange control table.

For many years before 2008, in English versions of the rules, the French word barrières was translated not as “barriers” but as “solid barriers”.

If the terrain is surrounded by solid barriers these must be a minimum of 30 cm outside the dead ball line.

To many players the expression “solid barriers” didn’t suggest portable steel fences — it brought to mind the solid wooden surrounds that they saw when playing at their local petanque courts. So this mistranslation caused a lot of confusion in the English-speaking petanque community.

Before 2008, the rules specified that the exterior dead-ball line should be up to 4 meters outside of the exterior lanes, and any barriers should be at least 30cm beyond the dead-ball line.

In 2008 the rules were dramatically revised and simplified. The revision pulled the exterior dead-ball line inward and drew it tight around the playing area — the exterior dead-ball line now followed the exterior lines of the exterior lanes of the playing area. Barriers were now at least a meter outside of the exterior dead-ball line. And the word “solid” was removed from the English translation of Article 5.

This caused more confusion. A good illustration of the situation is the request, sent in 2010 by the Australian Petanque Federation to the FIPJP, asking for clarification of Article 5. The FIPJP Umpires Commission wrote back, saying —

The “solid barriers” referred to in Article 5 are those which are (usually temporarily) put up to prevent spectators etc from interfering with play.

If the terrain is surrounded by a fence, or a barrier as such to prevent spectators from entering the area, this should be 1 metre from the dead boule line.

If the terrain is surrounded by a timber plank or such like to stop the boules, it is recommended that this be at least 30cm from the dead boule line. There is nothing written in the rules that such a solid boundary (timber plank etc) must be 30cm from the dead boule line, it is only to ensure that the boules can fully cross the dead boule line.

The purpose of keeping the barriers at least a meter from the playing area is to allow players enough room to throw with a normal backswing, without any fear of hitting a barrier. In personal correspondence, International Umpire Mike Pegg wrote this about the 2008 revision of the rules.

In 2008 we tried to simplify the rules. Now the outer line of the lanes is also the dead ball line, and the barriers for spectators must be at least one meter outside of the dead ball line.

And why is there a distance of one meter from the dead ball line to the barriers?

The 2008 rules simplifications also did away with the rule that the circle must be 1 meter from the dead ball line. Now players can place the circle next to (but not over) the outer line of their lane. So the 1 meter distance between the dead ball line and the barriers allows the players enough room for their back swing.

Officially, the rules say absolutely nothing about wooden surrounds. Unofficially, the FIPJP still remembers the old rule that the barriers must be 30cm outside of the dead-ball line, and recommends that wooden surrounds be located at least 30cm outside of the exterior dead-ball line.

This makes sense. A 30cm space between the strings of the dead-ball line and the wooden surround makes it easy to recognize when a ball has gone out-of-bounds. It insures that a boule can fully cross the exterior dead-ball line before hitting the surround. And it helps to prevent boules that go out-of-bounds from bouncing back onto the terrain.

Solid barriers no longer exist in the English-language version of the rules, but “solid” may have become permanently embedded in English petanque terminology. Here’s a diagram of a petanque playing area from the Petanque New Zealand 2014 Protocols For Hosting National Championship Tournaments.

1. If the terrain has a permanent solid boundary, such as the low wooden edges of former bowling greens, the dead ball line should be at least 30cm from them (to allow the boule to completely cross the dead ball line).

2. If the terrain is surrounded by temporary solid barriers (such as those used for crowd control), these must be at least 1 metre from the dead ball line.

Dead ground

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

Terrain autorisé is territory where a boule or jack may move safely. In contrast, terrain interdit is territory that kills balls that enter it. A live boule or jack immediately becomes dead if it lands in, or crosses, a patch of terrain interdit.

For the sake of consistency, we prefer to translate terrain autorisé and terrain interdit as “in-bounds” and “out-of-bounds”. However, the expression terrain interdit literally means “forbidden territory” and other translators prefer to translate it as “dead ground”.

A patch of dead ground can come between the jack and the throwing circle if the terrain has an irregular shape, so that a patch of terrain interdit intrudes into the terrain autorisé. You can see a good example in the petanque court in Urban Park, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA.


The court is designed to fit around several pre-existing trees. On this terrain it is possible for a shot jack to fly sideways and end up around a corner, so that there is dead ground (an out-of-bounds area, terrain interdit) between it and the throwing circle.

Some umpires interpret the rules so that there is a second kind of situation in which a patch of dead ground can come between the jack and the throwing circle. We discuss that situation in our post on the Puddle Rule.

Dead-ball lines

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

A dead-ball line, une ligne de perte, is a line that, like James Bond, is licensed to kill. More precisely, a dead-ball line is a line that kills any live ball — boule or jack — that crosses it.

To start, there is a difference between a guide line and a dead-ball line. When a playing area is marked off into lanes (cadres, pistes) the lines (usually strings) that mark the edges of the individual lanes are called “guide lines”. Depending on the context, any particular guide line may or may not also be considered a dead-ball line.

Note also that older versions of the FIPJP rules used the expression “THE dead-ball line”, implying that there is only one dead-ball line. The current version of the rules uses the expression “a dead-ball line”, which implies that there are several dead ball lines.

To make it easier to explain dead-ball lines, I am going to classify them into three types. (Note: the FIPJP rules don’t do this.) I’m going to call the three types exterior, interior, and local dead-ball lines.

  • Local dead-ball lines are tied to a specific game — they are the local dead-ball lines for that game.
  • The exterior and interior dead-ball lines are global — they apply to every game being played in the playing area.

Here are the definitions and explanations exterior, interior, and local dead-ball lines.

  1. The outer edges of the playing area (aire de jeu) are exterior dead-ball lines. A live boule or jack, from any game, is dead if it crosses any exterior dead-ball line.

    Together, the exterior dead-ball lines form a single closed boundary line around the entire playing area. This boundary is what the rules used to refer to as “the dead-ball line”.
  2. For games played on rectangular lanes (cadres, pistes) the boundary lines at the short ends of the lanes are interior dead-ball lines. A live boule or jack, from any game, is dead if it crosses any interior dead-ball line.
  3. Each game has its own local dead-ball lines. In a normal (non-time-limited) game, the far sidelines of the neighboring lanes are the local dead-ball lines. In a time-limited game, the sidelines of the assigned lane are the game’s local dead-ball lines.

The diagram below shows the situation in normal (non-time-limited) games.

Two terms related to “dead-ball line” (ligne de perte) are “in-bounds” (terrain autorisé) and “out-of-bounds” (terrain interdit).

The combination of the global and local dead-ball lines determines which areas are terrain autorisé and terrain interdite for any particular game. For a game played under a time limit (au temps limité), the assigned lane is in-bounds, and everything else is out-of-bounds. For a normal (non-time-limited game) the assigned lane PLUS any neighboring lanes are in-bounds, and everything else is out-of-bounds. Often a game’s in-bounds area will include three lanes — its own assigned lane PLUS the neighboring lane on one side PLUS the neighboring lane on the other side.

At one time, the rules actually did specify something called “THE dead-ball line”. It ran around the outside of the playing area, and could be drawn anywhere from zero to four meters from the exterior lanes.

The vagueness in the specifications for the location of the dead-ball line caused a lot of confusion, so those specifications were removed in 2008. Amazingly, nobody noticed that in removing the specifications of the LOCATION of the dead-ball line, they had removed ALL specifications of the dead-ball line! The exterior dead-ball line had disappeared!

When the dead-ball line made it back into Article 5 in 2010, it was no longer “THE dead-ball line”. It was “dead-ball lines” in the plural. And it was no longer something separate from, and outside of, the playing area— it was simply the outer boundary of the exterior lanes in the playing area.

[The] strings marking the boundaries of the different terrains are not dead-ball lines except for the lines at the foot of lanes and the lines of the exterior lanes.

The authors of the FIPJP rules haven’t yet realized that the abolition of the dead-ball line (as something different from the outer edge of the playing area) makes the whole notion of “dead-ball lines” pointless. It is now possible to express all of the rules in terms of one simple concept— the terrain autorisé. In English, we might call it the game area. The game area for any given game is the area where a boule can travel and still be a part of the game, still alive.

  1. The game area for a time-limited game is the assigned lane.
  2. The game area for a non-time-limited game includes the assigned lane and any neighboring lanes.
  3. The jack may not be thrown to a position less than a meter from the boundary of the game area.
  4. A boule or jack is dead if it leaves the game area.

We could still use the expression “dead-ball line” if we found it handy. It would simply mean the edge or boundary of the game area.

The two games known as “petanque”

I find it helpful to think of the FIPJP rules as a mixture of rules for two different games, which have quite different conceptual structures.

Traditional Petanque is played on an open, unmarked terrain (terrain libre). The fundamental rules of the game are expressed in terms of distances from the only fixed point on the terrain, the circle.

  • 3 meters – A hit jack is dead if it ends up less than 3 meters from the circle.
  • 6 meters – A thrown jack is invalid if it ends up less than 4 meters from the circle.
  • 10 meters – A thrown jack is invalid if it ends up more than 10 meters from the circle.
  • 20 meters – A hit jack is dead if it ends up more than 20 meters from the circle.

Competition Petanque is played on a terrain that has marked boundary lines (un terrain délimité or terrain tracé). Most FIPJP rules assume that the game is being played in a competition, on a playing area that is divided (as in this diagram) into a grid of lanes (cadres).

In English, the lines in the grid (traditionally, strings strung tightly between nails driven into the ground) are called “guide-lines”. In French they are simply called “strings” (ficelles) or “lines” (lignes).

Each game is assigned to be played on one of the lanes, and that lane then becomes the “assigned lane” (cadre affecté or cadre attribué) for the game.
The game’s in-bounds area (terrain autorisé) may or may not be the same as its assigned lane.

For time-limited games, the game’s in-bounds area is its assigned lane.

For non-time-limited games, the game’s in-bounds area includes the game’s assigned lane, plus any neighboring lane(s) with which it shares a long side. So in the diagram, for a non-time-limited game whose assigned lane is A, the in-bounds area includes lanes A and B. For a game whose assigned lane is B, the in-bounds area includes lanes A, B, and C.

The guide-lines that enclose the in-bounds area (terrain autorisé) for a game are traditionally called the game’s dead-ball lines (lignes de pertes). For any given game, the area outside of the game’s dead-ball lines is out-of-bounds for the game (terrain interdit). Any live boule or jack in a game is dead if it crosses one of the game’s dead-ball lines, that is, crosses from terrain autorisé into terrain interdit. A thrown jack is invalid if it lands less than one meter from terrain interdit.

Regardless of the size or shape of a game’s in-bounds area, the circle must always be placed, and the jack must always be thrown, within the guide-lines of the game’s assigned lane.

In contrast to Traditional Petanque, then, the fundamental rules for Competition Petanque are NOT expressed in terms of distance. The fundamental rules of Competition Petanque are expressed in terms of lines and areas — guide-lines and dead-ball lines, the assigned lane and in-bounds areas (terrain autorisé) and out-of-bounds areas (terrain interdit).