The boule advantage

[updated 2021-12-21]
To understand petanque at the strategic level, you need to understand the concept of “the boule advantage”.

The basic idea is simple — the team with the most unplayed boules “has the boule advantage”. If your team has two unplayed boules, and my team has four, then my team has the boule advantage.

Digging a bit deeper

It is possible to provide a precise definition of the boule advantage.

If a team gains the point every time it throws, we will say that the team plays perfectly. (Note that it doesn’t make any difference how the team gains the point. They can out-point the opposition, or shoot away an opposition boule that is holding the point, or shoot the jack. The important thing is that they never require more than one throw to gain the point.)

At any point during a mene, a team has the boule advantage if, assuming that it plays perfectly from that point forward, that team will play the last boule in the mene.

At the start of a mene, the second team to play always has the boule advantage. You can often see this in world-championship games. Team A points the first boule, and Team B shoots it with their own first boule. Team A points their next boule and Team B shoots it with their next boule. Point. Shoot. Point. Shoot. The teams alternate gaining the point until Team A points their last boule. This leaves Team B to play the last boule of the mene. They shoot or point with their last boule and often win the mène.

In short, if you think of a mène as a conversation, then the team with the boule advantage is the team that gets to “have the last word” in that conversation.

Among world-class players, the “point, shoot, point, shoot” pattern is so predictable that often the best way to follow the game is to watch for cases in which a team fails to play perfectly and requires two or more throws to gain the point. The real drama in a world-championship game is in the shot that just barely misses, and the pointing throw that doesn’t quite gain the point. Such failures turn over the boule advantage to the opposing team.  At this level of play, losing the boule advantage can mean losing the mène.

To point? or to shoot? Some strategic considerations

Suppose that your team has two pointers and one shooter. The opponents throw the jack and point a very nice first boule… it is close to the jack and is going to be very hard to out-point. What do you do?

  • Should you ask your shooter to try to shoot it?
  • But… it is very early in the mene, and the opposing team still has five boules. Should you point, and save your shooter for an emergency?

This is petanque’s classic question — to point, or to shoot?  If you decide to point, you may end up with another classic situation— your team ends up throwing all of its boules, trying to out-point the opponents’ opening boule. After you’ve done it, you realize that you’ve lost the boule advantage big time. The opposing team still has five boules that it can play without fear of any response from your team. And you realize in retrospect that you should have used your shooter to try to shoot that opening boule.

If this happens to you, here’s how you should think about the situation.

  • Your team started with the boule advantage.  You might have kept the boule advantage if you had brought out your shooter and shot the opposing team’s opening boule. Even if it took your shooter more than one attempt, it would have been worth it to get rid of that dangerous opening boule.
     
  • In deciding not to shoot, you not only lost the advantage, you gave the advantage to your opponents, to the tune of five boules. With a boule advantage that big, they are almost certainly going to score several points and win the mene.

The moral of this story is that one of your highest priorities should be NOT to lose the boule advantage. And that can sometimes mean using your shooter very early in the mene.

The Forgotten Boule and the Boule Advantage

Suppose that there are a lot of boules on the ground. Your team has the point, so you ask the opponents if they have any unplayed boules. They look around and then say “No, we’re out”.  So you play your last boule.  As you’re walking to the head to count your points, one of the opposing players says “Ooops! I made a mistake. I still have one boule left!”  What should you do?

You can say “It was an honest mistake. Go ahead. Play your last boule.” But giving away your team’s boule advantage in this way would be a big mistake. With their last “forgotten” boule, your opponents can do all sorts of mischief and win the mene. So a good general rule is that a forgotten boule— even in friendly play— cannot be played. See our discussion of dealing with a forgotten boule.


Foot faults – What to do?

[revised 2021-12-23]
In July 2017 (during the final of the Masters de Pétanque at Clermont) an umpire gave Dylan Rocher a yellow card for a foot fault, but he didn’t disqualify Dylan’s thrown boule. This prompted the following question on Ask the Umpire (March 2, 2018) —

A player lifted a foot while throwing. His thrown boule successfully shot away an opponent’s boule. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged.
Did the umpire rule correctly?

  • International umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was NO. Mike’s opinion was that “The umpire should have disqualified the boule and put back the original boule because the player who lifted his foot should not be given this unfair advantage.”
     
  • FPUSA umpire Gary Jones’s answer was YES. “Since Article 6 clearly states that Article 35 should be applied for the infraction of lifting one’s foot while throwing, and Article 24 clearly states that it is applicable only where the rules do not provide for specific and graduated penalties as outlined in Article 35, I would rule exactly as the presiding umpire did.”

Gary mentions Article 24, so we should be clear about what that article says.

Article 24 – Boules thrown contrary to the rules
Except for cases in which these regulations specify the application of specific and graduated penalties in article 35, any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead, and anything that it displaced in its travel is put back in place, if those objects had been marked. However, the opponent has the right to apply the advantage rule and declare it to be valid. In this case, the boule pointed or shot, is valid and anything it has displaced remains in its place.

Article 6 says that a penalty will be imposed for a foot fault, so letting the offended team apply the “advantage rule” mentioned in Article 24 clearly is not an option. (See our post on a boule thrown contrary to the rules.) But Mike is not saying that he would apply the advantage rule in Article 24. Mike is saying that he, as umpire, would unilaterally declare the thrown boule to be dead and restore the shot boule to its original location. He would do so on the grounds that the player gained an “unfair advantage” through his foot fault.

This is a very questionable position. For one thing, in this hypothetical case Mike has no way of knowing whether the offending player’s foot fault actually gave him any advantage. More important, however, is the fact that Mike is simply inventing rules— pulling them out of thin air, or as we’d say in the USA, pulling them out of his ass. There is nothing in the FIPJP rules that says anything about unfair advantages. The notion of an “unfair advantage” is something that umpires have invented to allow themselves to over-rule the written rules in cases where they think the written rules would be unfair if applied literally.

The bottom line— not to put too fine a point on it— is that we are all at the mercies of the whims of the umpire. In my opinion, the umpire ruled correctly— Mike is wrong and Gary is right. But during a game, an umpire can rule in absolutely any way that he wishes, and he can invent whatever justification he wishes for his ruling. And regardless of whether or not his ruling and his reasons are correct— regardless of what we think— his ruling is sans appel.


Note that the clause Except for cases in which these regulations specify the application of specific and graduated penalties in article 35, was inserted into Article 24 in 2016, so it is a relatively new feature of the rules. Mazlan Ahmad has suggested that it might be a good idea to revoke the new clause. “Without that clause, enforcement of Article 24 for all foot-fault infractions becomes mandatory— just like the days before the 2016 rules revision.” So far, the FIPJP international umpires haven’t agreed with him— the FIPJP rules were revised again in December 2020 and the new clause was not removed.

Note that Dylan’s right foot is lifed completely off of the ground and outside the circle. The thrown boule is still too high in the air to be seen in this picture. See THIS or THIS.


A boule thrown out of turn

[updated: 2021-12-24]

Consider the following situation.

Team A has the point. Team B throws boule B1. B1 gains the point but Team B doesn’t realize that, so they throw boule B2. The teams then walk to the head and measure all of the boules. They discover that B1 had actually gained the point. That means that after B1 was thrown, team A, not team B, should have thrown the next boule. B2 was “thrown out of turn”. What should be done?

examining_the_head

Everyone agrees that B2 was thrown out of turn. But what should be done next depends on whether or not B2 was thrown contrary to the rules.

Some umpires say that it was. Following Article 16, which says that “it is the team that does not hold the point that plays,” they consider a boule played out-of-turn to be a boule thrown contrary to the rules.

Other umpires say that a boule thrown out-of-turn should not be considered to have been thrown contrary to the rules. In 2008 Petanque New Zealand (PNZ) published rules interpretations saying that a boule thrown out of turn is NOT thrown contrary to the rules. In 2012 John Degueldre, Director of Umpiring for Petanque New Zealand, followed up by issuing the following ruling.

Boules played out of turn are not considered as an infringement to the rules [i.e. as "boules thrown contrary to the rules"] but indeed as a mistake. Players making such a mistake penalise themselves by reducing or losing the boule advantage. In conclusion, players do not incur any penalty, and boule(s) are valid and stay in place. But it is still the player or team not holding the point that must play the next boule.

The practical effect of this interpretation is that, after a boule is thrown out-of-turn, everything is left where it is, and the game carries on.

The bottom line

I think that most FIPJP umpires consider a boule thrown out-of-turn to have been thrown contrary to the rules. Note that this does not automatically mean that the boule is dead, or that the umpire declares the boule to be dead. The boule is a Category B infraction of the rules, and the offended team may apply the advantage rule described Article 24. In most, but not necessarily all, cases, the offended team will choose to declare the boule to be dead.

Personally, I favor Petanque New Zealand’s position. A boule thrown out-of-turn hurts the team that threw it and does no harm to the opposing team. No harm; no foul. (This position has been adopted by the rules of Petanque Libre.)

Multiple boules thrown out-of-turn

Players sometimes ask what should be done if Team B throws several boules (say: B2, B3, and B4) before it is discovered that B1 had the point all along. The answer is that you should treat all boules thrown out-of-turn in the same way, no matter how many of them there are.

Dealing with a forgotten boule

Players and umpires sometimes invoke the concept of a boule thrown out-of-turn when dealing with a forgotten boule. See our post on Dealing with a forgotten boule.


Playing somebody else’s boule

[updated: 2021-11-27]

When a player mistakenly plays somebody else’s boule, it is not considered to be a boule played contrary to the rules. Instead, Article 23 (“A player throwing a boule other than his own”) says—

The player who plays a boule other than his own receives a warning. The boule played is nevertheless valid but it must immediately be replaced…

somebody_elses_boule
The general idea behind this rule seems sensible. Unfortunately, this rule, like so many FIPJP rules, can be difficult to apply in specific situations. Let’s look at some of them.

Situation A
Bob still has unplayed boules of his own. By mistake, Bob picks up and throws a boule that belongs to another player. (The boule may belong to another member of his own team, or to a member of the opposing team).

This is the kind of situation that the rule was designed for. The resolution is clear. The boule that Bob played is picked up and replaced by one of Bob’s unplayed boules.

Situation B
Bob has no unplayed boules of his own, but other members of his team have unplayed boules. Bob mistakenly thinks that he still has one unplayed boule. He picks up and throws a boule that belongs to another player. (The boule may belong to another member of his own team, or to a member of the opposing team).

It is at this point that we realize that the rule doesn’t say WHAT we should use to replace the mistakenly-thrown boule. Fortunately, common sense can provide a reasonable answer. If the mistakenly-thrown boule belongs to the opposing team, it is replaced by a boule belonging to one of Bob’s team-mates. If the mistakenly-thrown boule belongs to one of Bob’s team-mates, it is simply left in place.

Situation C
Bob’s team has no unplayed boules. Bob mistakenly thinks that he still has one unplayed boule. He picks up a boule that belongs to a member of the opposing team and throws it.

Now we’re starting to run into trouble. Bob’s team has no unplayed boules, so the mistakenly-thrown boule can’t be replaced by a boule that belongs to anyone on Bob’s team. What should we do?

At his point we’re beyond the scope of Article 23. This is a case of a Category B boule thrown contrary to the rules. The offended team gets to use the Advantage Rule described in Article 24. They can choose to…

  1. Pick up the illegally-thrown boule. At the same time, they can put anything else that was moved and whose original location was marked back in its original location.
     
  2. Leave everything where it is and carry on with the game. They might want to do this if the illegally-thrown boule is one of their own, and is situated in an advantageous location.

Dealing with a forgotten boule

[updated 2021-12-21]
What do you do when one team forgets that it has an unplayed boule?

There are a lot of boules on the ground. Your team (team A) has the point and unplayed boules. You ask the opponents (Team B) if they have any more boules to play. They look around, don’t see any, and say “No, we’re out.” So your team plays a boule. Then one of the opponents says “Ooops! I made a mistake. I still have one boule left!”. … What should be done?

 
Team B had an unplayed boule. Team A gave Team B the opportunity to play next. Team B refused to do so. It makes no difference that Team B acted because of a mistake rather than a deliberate desire to cheat. For whatever reason, Team B refused to play when it was their turn to play. Team B was at fault.

The determination that Team B was at fault rests on the idea that (a) playing a boule out-of-turn, and (b) refusing to play when it is your turn to play, are both are violations of the rules. They are flip sides of the same coin. Just as a boule can be played contrary to the rules, a boule can be withheld from play contrary to the rules.

Note that when a team throws a boule (or withholds a boule) contrary to the rules, that boule is a Category B boule thrown contrary to the rules, which means that the offended team may choose whether or not to declare the boule to be dead, or simply to carry on with the game. As a practical matter, Team A will always declare a forgotten boule to be dead. There is no possible advantage for Team A in allowing Team B to throw its forgotten boule, and there is a genuine disadvantage— it would give Team B the boule advantage. For practical purposes, then, the rule of thumb is— a forgotten boule is dead and may not be played.

Note that the situation would be different if Team A had simply gone ahead and thrown its boule, without checking to see if Team B had any unplayed boules. In that case, Team A would have thrown out of turn. Team B would not have withheld a boule in violation of the rules, and it would have every right to go ahead and play its last boule. Whether Team B can declare Team A’s boule to be dead would depend on how you choose to treat a boule thrown out of turn.


POSTSCRIPT
The opinion expressed in this post is, I believe, the most reasonable interpretation of the FIPJP rules as they currently exist. Note, however, that there are a variety of opinions on this topic, and opinions may differ from player to player and umpire to umpire. In an umpired game, therefore, it is impossible to predict how the umpire will rule. For an opinion that Team A was at fault, because a team has the obligation to know who should play next before it plays, see the comments on THIS POST.


What is “a boule thrown contrary to the rules”?

[updated 2021-12-25]
Players use the expression “boule thrown contrary to the rules” all the time and in a variety of contexts. But what does it really mean? And what should you do if you see one?

Problems with Article 24

The title of Article 24 is “Boules thrown contrary to the rules”.

Except for cases in which these rules provide specific and graduated penalties as outlined in article 35, any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead and if marked, anything that it has displaced in its travel is put back in place. However, the opponent has the right to apply the advantage rule and declare it to be valid. In this case, the boule pointed or shot, is valid and anything it has displaced remains in its place.

There are two serious problems with the way that Article 24 is written. First, it should never have used the phrase “boule thrown contrary to the rules”. If a player steps on the circle while playing, those words direct our attention toward the boule when we should be thinking about the player’s foot and the circle.

Second, it should not begin by saying categorically that the boule is dead… and then a dozen words later say “Oh, it’s not really dead. The opponent can decide whether or not it is dead.” The article should have been written this way.

Article 24 – When a player breaks a rule while throwing a boule
When a player breaks a rule while throwing a boule, if the rule specifies application of the penalties in Article 35 for that kind of infraction, the umpire will apply a penalty. Otherwise, the opposing team may apply the advantage rule and choose either (a) to declare the boule to be valid and leave everything that it displaced where it is, or (b) to declare the boule to be dead and put everything that it displaced back in its original location, if the original location was marked.
 

There are two categories of “boules thrown contrary to the rules”

Note that Article 24 says that there are two types of infractions (violations of the rules) that a player can commit while throwing a boule. Let’s call them Category A and Category B infractions.

  • Category A infractions are handled by the umpire imposing penalties listed in Article 35.
     
  • Category B infractions are handled by the offended team applying an advantage rule.

What Article 24 says, basically, is that if a player breaks a rule while throwing a boule, anything that isn’t a Category A infraction is a Category B infraction.


Category A infractions

Category A infractions are listed in Articles 6 and 16.

The players’ feet must be entirely on the inside of the circle and not encroach on its perimeter and they must not leave it or be lifted completely off the ground until the thrown boule has touched the ground. No part of the body may touch the ground outside the circle.Any player not respecting this rule shall incur the penalties as provided in article 35. [Article 6]

Before throwing his/her boule, the player must remove from it any trace of mud or whatever deposit, under threat of penalties outlined in article 35. [Article 16]

For a first infraction, an umpire will typically show a yellow card and give the offending player a warning. For a second infraction, an umpire will typically show an orange card and disqualify one of the offending player’s boules.


Category B infractions

Category B is a residual category— a grab bag of unspecified ways that a player can break a rule while throwing a boule. We don’t know what kinds of things the FIPJP umpires imagined would fall into Category B when they wrote Article 24. The FIPJP rules have only ever included one example of a Category B infraction— a boule thrown from a circle other than the one from which the jack was thrown. That example was added to the rules in 2008 and then removed in 2010. Nobody knows why.

If we search the rules we can find a number of infractions that probably fall into Category B.

  1. Throwing from the wrong circle, that is: throwing from a circle that was drawn on the ground during an earlier mene and never erased.
     
  2. Throwing more boules than you’re allowed. (After playing in a doubles game, you begin playing in a triples game. You’re still holding three boules. Forgetting that you’re now allowed to play only two boules, you throw a third.)
     
  3. Throwing your last boule while holding an extra boule in your “off” hand to help with your balance. (See Article 16.)
     
  4. Throwing two or more boules simultaneously.
     
  5. Throwing a boule out of turn.
    This is the most important Category B infraction… if it is indeed a Category B infraction. There is significant debate about whether “a boule thrown out-of-turn” really should be considered “thrown contrary to the rules”. (See our post on boules thrown out of turn.)

Note that mistakenly throwing a boule that doesn’t belong to you (i.e. throwing one of your team-mates’ boules or one of the opposing team’s boules or even a dead boule) is not a case of “a boule thrown contrary to the rules.” There is a special rule (Article 23) for handling a mistakenly-thrown boule . (See our post on playing somebody else’s boule.)

If a team commits a Category B infraction, the offended team gets to apply an advantage rule. (That is, the offended team gets to make a choice about what to do next.) The offended team has two choices.

  1. Declare the offending boule to be dead. And then put anything else that was moved and whose original location was marked, back in its original location.
     
  2. Leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.


POP QUIZ

This photo shows a number of infractions as a player throws a boule. Which of them are Category A infractions? Which are Category B infractions? Which are neither?
Answers are HERE.