Agreeing the points – a useful tip

Raymond Ager is living in France now, and (obviously!) has been playing a lot of pétanque. Recently he gave me a great tip that he’s picked up while playing there.

During the agreement of points, the team that lost the end removes what they consider are the opponent’s scoring boules.

That way it’s perfectly clear that the losing team accepts those boules as scoring boules.

What often happens is that the winning team is eager to claim their points. They walk to the head, say something like “well, 3 points for sure”, and immediately remove their supposedly-scoring boules before the opponents have a chance to verify and agree. That’s when the arguments begin— “But you only had 2”, etc. etc. That’s why this tip is so useful. It forestalls that kind of debate.

It’s so useful, in fact, that I think it should be expanded into a general “best practices” recommendation—

At the agreement of points, when it is clear which team is the losing team, the losing team should be in charge of the agreement of points. That is, the losing team should be responsible for removing boules that they agree are scoring boules, and then should be responsible for measuring other boules that need measuring.

This rule needs a snappy name to make it easier to remember and use. Perhaps (in the spirit of “Mugs away!”) something like “Mugs measure!”

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.

Boundaries
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.

Obstacles
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 three simple rules.

  1. The thrown or placed jack must be at least 50cm from an end line or a pointing obstacle.
  2. The circle must be placed at least 1 meter from any throwing obstacle.
  3. The circle and jack must be at least 1.5 meters from any other active circle or jack.

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.


Can the thrown jack straddle a side boundary line?

The 2020 rules removed the requirement that a jack must be some minimum distance from a side line. This has prompted players to ask questions like this one on Ask the Umpire.

Must the thrown jack be 100% inside the side line of the lane? Or can it straddle the side line and still be valid, like a boule or a hit jack?
 

The rules say that the jack must be thrown on the assigned terrain (see Article 6). So the question essentially boils down to this—

What does “on the assigned terrain” mean?   Is a thrown jack straddling a side guide line considered to be “on the assigned terrain”?

The answer to this question was provided by Mike Pegg. In order to be valid, the thrown jack must be touching the ground of the assigned lane. A jack that is touching the ground inside the line is valid even if it is also touching the the line (string) around the assigned lane. Because the jack has a round shape and is larger than the string, if the jack is touching the string, it will also be slightly bulging over the string. That’s OK. The jack is valid.

Note that this is different from the rule about “entirely crossing the line” in order for a boule or jack to be considered dead. In that rule, a boule or jack may be resting on dead ground, or even on the string itself, and still be alive. That is DIFFERENT from the rule governing a thrown jack.

Because a plastic throwing circle doesn’t have the same kind of round shape as a jack, the rule for the throwing circle is different. To be considered “on the assigned lane”, the entire circle must be inside the boundary lines of the lane. The side of the circle may touch the line, but the circle cannot extend over the line.

Some players have asked—

What if one throws the jack up to the side line string, the jack rolls and touches the string, and then curves back in and comes to rest in a valid position. Would the jack be considered as valid?

The answer is clearly YES. If the jack had rolled up to the string and stopped right there, touching the string, it would be valid. And rolling away from the string afterwards doesn’t change that.

But consider a more radical question.

What if one throws the jack. It crosses the terrain boundary-line, hits something on the ground near the line, and bounces back inside the boundary line of the terrain. Is the thrown jack valid?

There is a difference between a jack being alive and being valid. Mike Pegg says that the thrown jack comes alive when it leaves the player’s hand. It is alive as it flies through the air. When it comes to rest on the terrain— if it is in a valid location, and if it is still alive— it becomes valid. On the other hand, if the jack in its journey crosses the dead ball line, it is dead on arrival. It cannot become valid.

Which team throws next?

[revised 2022-01-02]
Here is a quick review.

► If the point is decided, the team that does not have the point plays next.
► If the point is null, the teams play alternately until the point is decided, starting with the team that threw the boule that created the null point.


These rules use some important terms and concepts.

  • If one team has the point, then we say that the point is decided.
  • If neither team has the point, then we say that the point is null (un point nul).

There are two situations in which the point is null (neither team has the point).

  • Neither team has the point if the best boules of each team are the same distance from the jack. This is called an equidistant boules situation.
  • Neither team has the point if there are no boules on the terrain. This is called an empty terrain situation.

There are two ways to create an empty terrain situation—

  • A team throws the jack to start a mene. The jack is on the terrain but there are no boules on the terrain.
  • A team throws a boule. The boule knocks all of the other boules out-of-bounds and then itself rolls out-of-bounds, leaving the jack— but no boules— on the terrain.

When a team throws a jack or a boule that creates a null point, that team starts alternating play by throwing the next boule. So in the first empty-terrain case, the team that threw the jack starts alternating play by throwing the first boule in the mene. In the second empty-terrain case, the team that threw the remarkably destructive boule starts alternating play by throwing the next boule.


These procedures are described reasonably clearly in Article 16 and Article 29 of the FIPJP rules (see the footnotes for the text of those articles), but there are a few unusual situations that cause players to be unsure of how to proceed.

(A) The opening boules keep going out-of-bounds.
What if the first boule thrown goes out-of-bounds?
What if the first boule and the second boule go out-of-bounds?
What if the first boule and the second boule and the third boule go out-of-bounds?
… and so on…

Team A creates a null point (an empty terrain) when it throws out the jack. It then starts alternating play by throwing its first boule, A1. If A1 goes out-of-bounds, then Team A has failed to decide the point (the terrain is still empty), so Team B continues alternating play by throwing its first boule, B1. If B1 goes out-of-bounds, then Team B has also failed to decide the point (the terrain is still empty), so Team A continues alternating play by throwing its next boule, A2. And so on.

In an extreme situation, if each of the first six boules goes out of bounds, play looks like this.

* Team A throws the jack (creating an empty terrain situation).
* Team A throws boule A1 (to start alternating play).
* Team B throws B1 (continues alternating play).
* Team A throws A2 (continues alternating play).
* Team B throws B2 (continues alternating play).
* Team A throws A3 (continues alternating play).
* Team B throws B3 (continues alternating play).
* Team A throws A4 … you get the idea.


Players sometimes think that if a team throws a boule and fails to gain the point, then that team must throw again… and again… and again, until they either gain the point or run out of boules. So these players believe that if team A throws boule A1, and A1 rolls out of bounds, then team A must throw A2, and then A3, and then A4, until they get a boule to stay in-bounds or run out of boules. These players are mistaken. That is not what the rules say.

(B) An equidistant boules situation comes back from the dead.
Team A points boule A1. Team B then points boule B1, and B1 comes to rest at the same distance from the jack as A1. (box 1, below left)

Because Team B has created an equidistant boules situation, Team B starts alternating play by throwing boule B2. B2 comes to rest between A1 and B1 and the jack, gaining the point and ending the null point. (box 2, below center)

Since Team B has the point, Team A throws A2. A2 does exactly what it was meant to do— it hits B2 hard, and both boules roll away. Now (in box 3, below right) A1 and B1 are again in the situation shown in box 1.

Players sometimes think of this as “bringing back”, or “returning to”, the original equidistant boules situation, and they are unsure about how to proceed.

These players are mistaken. The situation in box 3 is not the same situation as in box 1. What has happened is that another equidistant boules situation has been created.

Equidistant boules situations are like solar eclipses. They can happen over and over again, with the same objects in the same arrangement, but each episode is a different event. The throw of B1 created an equidistant boules situation (box 1) that lasted until it was ended by the throw of B2 (box 2). The throw of A2 removed B2 and created another equidistant boules situation (box 3). The situation in box 3 is similar to, but different from, the situation in box 1, in the same way that this year’s solar eclipse is similar to, but different from, last year’s solar eclipse.

The bottom line for the situation in box 3 is that Team A has created a second, new, equidistant boules situation, so Team A starts alternating play by throwing its next boule, A3.

(C) One of the equidistant boules is exactly replaced.
Suppose that Team A points boule A1. Team B points boule B1, which comes to rest at exactly the same distance from the jack as A1. (box 1, below left) Team B starts alternating play; they throw boule B2, trying to shoot A1. But they miss and accidentally hit their own boule. B2 hits B1 away and in a remarkable carreau sur place exactly takes its place. Where before A1 and B1 were equidistant, now A1 and B2 are equidistant from the jack. (box 2, below right)

Players sometimes think this creates “a new null point” (“c’est un nouveau point nul“) “because it is a different boule that is now equidistant from the jack.” Since Team B has created a new null point (they reason), Team B must begin alternating play by throwing its next boule, B3.

These players are mistaken. It is true that the boules involved have changed, and in that sense there is “a new situation”. But the relevant fact is that Team B’s throw of B2 failed to decide the point. The point was null before B2 was thrown, and it is still null. Since the throw of B2 failed to decide the point, alternating play continues. Team A throws the next boule.

(D) An equidistant boules situation is converted into an empty terrain situation.
Suppose that Team A throws boule A1. Team B throws boule B1, which ends up exactly equidistant from the jack. Team B starts alternating play; they throw boule B2, trying to shoot A1. But they miss. B2 accidentally hits both boules on the terrain, knocking them out-of-bounds, and then itself rolls out of bounds. There are now no boules left on the terrain.

Players sometimes think that this creates “a new null point” because an equidistant boules situation was changed into an empty terrain situation. This is a mistake. The situation here is basically the same as in situation (C). The relevant fact is that Team B’s throw of B2 failed to decide the point. The point was null before B2 was thrown, and it is still null. Since the throw of B2 failed to decide the point, alternating play continues. Team A throws the next boule.


FOOTNOTES

Article 16
If the first boule played goes into an out-of-bounds area, it is for the opponent to play, then alternately as long as there are no boules in the in-bounds area. If no boule is left in the in-bounds area after a shooting throw or a pointing throw, apply the provisions of Article 29 concerning a null point (point nul).

Article 29 – Boules equidistant from the jack
When the two boules closest to the jack belong to different teams and are at an equal distance from it… If both teams still have boules, the team that played the last boule plays again, then the opposing team, and so on alternately until the point belongs to one of them.


Verify the point before you throw

[revised: 2021-06-12]
Situations involving a boule thrown out-of-turn often raise questions. One interesting question was recently raised on “Ask the umpire”.

Boules A1 and B1 are on the ground. A1 has the point. Team B throws boule B2. B2, as it rolls through the head, bumps the jack closer to B1, giving the point to Team B. A player on Team A sees that B2 has moved the jack, but says nothing.

Team B doesn’t realize that the jack has been moved, so they continue pointing. They point three boules before going to the head to inspect the situation. When they do, they realize that all three of the boules played after B2 were played out-of-turn.

There is no question that three boules were played out-of-turn. Team A invoked the Advantage Rule in Article 24 and declared that all three were dead.

The interesting question is this. When Team A saw that the jack had been moved, weren’t they under some kind of obligation to speak up? It seems unfair that Team A said nothing and let Team B continue to throw boules which they (Team A) knew were being thrown out-of-turn.

Mike’s opinion, and the consensus opinion of the comments, was that a team is always responsible for verifying— before they play a boule— that it is their turn to play.

The opposing team is under no obligation whatsoever to say anything about what they observe, or what they think they may have observed. “In this scenario, Team B should check after playing a boule. Team A is not obliged to advise or inform Team B to check who is holding the point.”


Where to stand when you’re not throwing

[updated: 2020-10-10]
Players sometimes wonder where they should stand (or are permitted to stand) when a member of their own team is throwing, and when a member of the opposing team is throwing. The answer is in Article 17 (“Behavior of players and spectators during a game”). Article 17 stipulates three conditions. (In this quotation I label them a, b, and c.) While a player is preparing to throw his boule –

The opponents must stand (a) beyond the jack or behind the player and, (b) in both cases, to one side of the line of play and (c) at least 2 meters from one or the other [the jack or the player]. Only [the player’s] teammates may stand between the jack and the throwing circle.

So when a member of your own team is throwing, you are allowed to stand anywhere. You may even, if you wish, stand in the head pointing to the donnée with your toe.

The opponents, on the other hand, are much more restricted. The “line of play” [sens du jeu] is an imaginary line running through the circle and the jack. Article 17 says that the opponents are required to stay to one side or the other of the line of play. It doesn’t specify how far from the line of play, but French and Dutch national federations agree that the distance should be at least one meter. The result is this diagram, in which the opponents must stand behind the circle (in the areas marked “A”) or beyond the jack (in the areas marked “B”), at least two meters from the circle and the jack, and at least one meter to the side of the line of play.
where to stand when playing petanque
In tournaments, the convention is for opponents always to stand beyond the jack in the “B” areas. There are potential problems with this practice. A shot boule can easily (and rapidly) fly sideways and hit the foot of a player standing in one of the “B” areas. When a player is shooting, therefore, the other players are wise to stand well away from the head. They should (if possible) stand outside the dead-ball line. Then, if a boule is shot and suddenly flies sideways, it will have gone out-of-bounds and be dead before hitting a player’s foot.


Must a team throw ALL of its boules?

updated 2021-07-25
There are a couple of situations in which players ask— Must a team throw ALL of its boules?

One of the common forms of this question is — Can a team “take the point”?

Team A is out of boules. Team B has the point and has one unplayed boule. Afraid of messing up the situation and losing the one point that they now have, Team B decides to play it safe. Team B’s player holds on to his unplayed boule and says “We’ll take the point”, meaning “We’re not going to throw any more boules; we’ll just take the point(s) that we already have.”

When that happens, players on Team A sometimes ask: Can he do that? Can he say “we’ll take the point” and not play his remaining boules? Isn’t he required to play his last boule?

The answer is that it depends on the circumstances. Everyone recognizes that when one team is out of boules and the other team has game on the ground, the game is over; there is no reason to throw any more boules. Before the end of the game, however, the practice of “taking the point” is not universally recognized. Some clubs accept it, but others do not. In clubs that don’t accept it, a visiting player will be told that he can’t just “take the point”— he must actually throw his last boule.

One consideration is that “taking the point” can cause problems.

Team A is out of boules; Team B still has one. Team B is sure that they have the point, so they say “we’ll take the point”. The teams walk to the head, examine the situation, and realize that they need to measure. When they do, they discover that Team B does NOT have the point. Team B then says, “Well, in that case we will play our last boule.” But Team A objects. Team A argues that when Team B said “we’ll take the point,” Team B gave up the right to play any more boules.

Who is right? Can Team B play their last boule?

Opinions differ. An FIPJP umpire will probably rule that saying “we’ll take the point” has no significance under the FIPJP rules (basically, it was just an off-the-cuff remark), so Team B can play their last boule. The Dutch petanque federation (NJBB), on the other hand, says—

When a team chooses to say “we’ll take the point” they are in effect saying “Consider all of my boule(s) as thrown: Let’s determine the final score”. That is, by saying “we’ll take the point” they are giving up the right to play their remaining unplayed boules. They are in effect VIRTUALLY throwing away their last boules.

The NJBB position seems sensible, but the FIPJP interpretation has a significant practical advantage— it prevents debates about what Team B may or may not have said. For that reason the best maxim is— always play all of your boules.

There is another kind of situation in which players ask whether or not a team must throw all of its boules. It is the situation that Ernesto Santos mentions in his comment (see below), and occurred recently in mene 11 of a game between Marco Foyot and Christian Fazzino. It typically happens in singles. Player A is out of boules and doesn’t have even a single boule on the terrain. Player B has one or two unplayed boules. It is impossible for player B not to score points with those boules— all he has to do is drop them on the terrain. In such a case, it is reasonable to award Player B the points for his unplayed boules without requiring that he actually play them. Still, in an umpired game, an umpire will expect him actually to play them. As Mike Pegg wrote on “Ask the Umpire”

To win the points your boule(s) must be closer to the jack than the nearest of your opponent. Any boules “yet to play” will not be counted.

The requirement to play those boules became explicit in 2016 when the FIPJP added a new sentence to Article 6.

If a player picks up the circle when there are boules still to be played, the circle is replaced but only the opponents are allowed to play their boules.

The rule is quite clear. If Player B picks up the circle without throwing his remaining boules, he loses the right to throw his remaining boules… which means that they cannot be considered to have been thrown. So in such a situation, the rules are absolutely clear— the player MUST throw his remaining boules.

The weight of the boules

Article 2 specifies three weight-related requirements for boules.

  1. Boules must weigh between 650 and 800 grams.
  2. The manufacturer must engrave the weight on the boules.
  3. The manufacturer’s weight mark (le chiffre du poids) must be legible.

The reason for the weight-mark is to make it easy (or easier) to detect a “stuffed” boule. Injecting a substance like mercury into a boule will, all else being equal, increase its weight. So an umpire can simply weigh a boule and be reasonably certain that it has been tampered with if it weighs more than the weight mark.

The requirement for a manufacturer’s weight mark was first added to the French (FFPJP) rules in 1974, and one guesses that the number of stuffed boules has been dropping steadily ever since. As recently as October 2016, at the European (CEP Eurocup) Championships held in Monaco, there was an incident in which the German team was disqualified when it was found to be playing with a stuffed boule. The interesting thing is that the competition was the veterans’ triples competition— the old guys. As the older generation of players dies out, I expect incidents of stuffed boules eventually will stop altogether.
stuffed_boules_cep2016

An interesting fact is that a boule slowly loses weight as it is played with over the years, so a boule that has been heavily used for decades can lose as much as 5 to 10 grams of weight. This fact of weight loss prompts players to wonder if there is any amount of weight loss that is too much. Is there some fixed number of grams, they ask, or some fixed percentage of its original weight, that a boule can lose that will render it illegal?

The answer is YES, but you won’t find that rule in the rules of petanque. It is in another document.

The FIPJP publishes a document that lays out requirements for the manufacture of certified competition boules— Conditions Requises Pour L’homologation De Boules De Petanque De Competition (“Requirements for the Certification of Competition Petanque Boules”). Buried in that document are several requirements for what can and cannot happen to boules after they leave the manufacturer.

Article 7 – Note: boules of steel or bronze cannot be subjected to any heat treatment after sale to the user.
Article 9 – In no case can the regulatory marking be changed [retouché] after sale to the user.

Article 8 (“Weight”) says this (I have bolded the part that is important for us here)—

The weight of the boules must be between 650 grams minimum and 800 grams maximum. The following tolerances are allowed:

(a) Manufacturing tolerance for each boule: The maximum difference between the engraved weight and the actual weight may not be greater than plus/minus 5 grams.

b) Tolerance of wear due to use in play: Weight loss should not exceed 15 grams below the marked weight.

When Ray Ager brought up this question on “Ask the Umpire”, Mike Pegg replied that this document contained rules only for the manufacturing of boules, not rules for boules in play. And if the FIPJP rules were well organized, that would be true. But, as we have seen, Articles 7, 8, and 9 actually do contain rules for boules in play. And the meaning of Article 8, clause (b) is quite clear. So there really should be a fourth weight-related requirement for boules in Article 2 of the rules of petanque.

Weight loss due to wear and use in play may not be greater than 15 grams below the marked weight.


This post is an excerpt from A Guide to the Rules of Petanque.

The second half of this post has been completely revised in response to information in a comment by “Dr. Carreau”.  Doctor, thank you! 🙂


The top 7 FAQs about the rules of petanque

(1) The jack is dead. What do we do now?
If only one team has unplayed boules, that team scores the same number of points as it has unplayed boules. Otherwise, neither team scores any points. The circle is placed on the assigned terrain, as close as possible to the place where it (the jack) was last alive. The team that last scored points, throws the jack.

(2) What do you do when two boules are the same distance from the jack, or when the terrain is empty?
When one of the teams has the point, the other team throws. When neither team has the point (as in these two cases), the teams throw alternately until the point is decided, starting with the team that threw the boule that created the undecided point.

(3) What do you do when the first boule thrown goes out of bounds?
The other team throws its first boule, and alternate play continues until one team has the point.

(4) If a boule hits something overhead (tree branch, light fixture, ceiling) is it dead?
No, not unless the boule horizontally crossed a dead-ball line at some point.

(5) What do you do when a player accidentally picks up the circle too soon?
Put it back as close to its original location as you can, and carry on with the game.

(6) What do you do when a player accidentally picks up a boule too soon?
Do not call the umpire. Put the boule back as close to its original location as you can, and carry on with the game.

(7) How does the “stepping back” rule work?
When placing the circle, if there is no direction to which you can throw the jack to 10 meters (bearing in mind that a jack thrown to 10 meters must also be at least a meter from all dead-ball lines), you may stand in the circle, face the circle’s position in the previous mene, pick up the circle, back away from the circle’s previous position until there is some direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters, and put the circle down in that new location. (See also THIS.)

questions_mandrake


When a player must leave during a game

It happens. In the middle of a game, a player must leave. Perhaps there is sudden news of a family emergency. Perhaps he is attacked by a sudden bout of illness. Perhaps he is attacked by a BEAR!  In any event, he has to leave.

When this happens, his teammates are left with the question “How do we carry on with the game?” Sometimes the question is “Bob had to leave. Can Jim play his boules?”

How does the game proceed?


The answer is a definite “It depends.”

If the context is a formal, organized competition, the first option is to replace the player who is leaving with another player. To do this, the affected team would call the umpire, notify him, and get his permission/approval for the change. (In the FIPJP world championships, the triples teams are required to have four members. The fourth member is a backup for just such situations.)

In a formal competition, if no replacement player can be found, the remaining players can NOT play the boules of the departed player. They must continue by themselves, with each player playing only his own boules.

Still… umpires have a lot of discretion in making decisions that allow competitions to continue smoothly. Each situation is unique, and a particular umpire in a particular set of circumstances might see other options.

If the context is a friendly game, the players can be more relaxed about following the letter of the law. The affected team would try to find a replacement player. Failing that, the remaining teammates could increase the number of boules they play.

Just as an umpire has a lot of discretion in making decisions in a formal competition, the players in a friendly game are free to continue in any way that is acceptable to both teams. The players might, for instance, simply stop the game, re-form the teams, and start again.

Where you run into problems is in a friendly but competitive game (no umpire) where one team is happy to proceed in a relaxed way, while the other team feels that “the rules are the rules”. In such a case, there can be disagreement about how to proceed.

At this point we have a human relationship problem, not a question about the rules of petanque. This is tricky territory. But if you can remember that this is not about the rules of petanque, but about getting along with people who you want to keep as friends for a long time, you’ll be OK. You’ll figure out something.