Moving a boule while measuring – the frozen triangle rule

A rule that regularly provokes questions from players occurs in Article 28.

The point is lost by a team if one of its players, while making a measurement, displaces the jack or one of the contested boules.

Much of the confusion is caused by the phrase “the point is lost…” and the sloppy way in which players, umpires, and the FIPJP rules often use the expression “to have the point” when they mean “is closer than”.   It would have been much better if the rule had been written this way.

If a player, while making a measurement, displaces the jack or one of the contested boules, then the offending team’s boule is considered to be farther from the jack than the offended team’s boule.

If the rule had been written that way, there would be far fewer questions about what the rule means and how to apply it. 

I call this the Frozen Triangle Rule.  The Frozen Triangle Rule assumes that we’re dealing with a simple case involving two contested boules, A2 and B2, and the jack.  A measurement is being made in order to answer the question— Which boule is closer to the jack?

Suppose that Albert (a player from Team A) is doing the measuring.  While measuring, Albert accidentally moves one of the boules or the jack.  Instantly:

  • The relationships between the contested boules and the jack become frozen, in effect forming a triangle.
  • In this frozen triangle, the boule belonging to the offended team (in this case, Team B) is considered to be closer to the jack than the boule belonging to the offending team.  B2 is “frozen” closer to the jack than A2.

Since B2 is closer to the jack than A2, Team B has the point; Team A must play the next boule. 

The frozen triangle can be broken or unfrozen if later in the game the jack or one of the contested boules is moved.  But as long as none of the balls in the triangle is moved, the triangle remains frozen and the offended team’s boule is considered to be closer to the jack than the offending team’s boule.  This is true during subsequent measurements to determine which team plays next, and it is true during the agreement of points.

As soon as a player accidentally moves a ball, regardless of whether it is his or the opponent’s ball, he loses the benefit of the measure.  The point, concerning this measure, remains with the opposing team until something has moved. This is why when instructing umpires we tell them to stay on the spot until something has changed.  If he was measuring the boules closest to the jack, his team must play next.  [Mike Pegg]

The players should carefully mark each of the boules that were being contested, and the jack, in order to determine if they are subsequently moved during the round. If they remain unmoved at the end of the round, the opponents of the team who made the measuring error are declared to hold the point between the two boules that were being contested, even if their boule would no longer measure as closer.  On the other hand, if either boule or the jack is subsequently moved during play, the declaration described above is rescinded, and each boule stands on its own merit via the normal measuring procedure. [FPUSA umpire’s guide, 2015 edition]

In the quote from Mike Pegg, the last sentence is important.  If [the player] was measuring the boules closest to the jack, his team must play next.  In our first diagram (above), A2 and B2 are indeed the boules closest to the jack.  So in that situation, as Mike points out, Team A plays next.

But consider a different situation. In this situation A1 is closest to the jack, so Team A has the point. Albert is measuring A2 and B2 in order to determine which boule is second-closest.  As before, Albert bumps a ball.  Instantly A2, B2 and the jack are frozen into a triangle, with B2 closer than A2. Now the boules (in order of their distance from the jack) are A1, B2, and A2.  Team A still has the point and so (unlike the previous situation) Team B plays the next boule.

As I noted earlier, much of the confusion surrounding this rule is the result of sloppy writing in the FIPJP rules, and specifically in the way that Article 28 says that “the team loses the point”. What Article 28 should say is that the team’s contested boule is considered to be farther from the jack. In our second situation, when Albert moved a contested ball, his team did NOT lose the point.  A1 is still closest to the jack, so Team A still has the point. Team B plays the next boule.


Putting things back

One of the problems with the FIPJP rules document is that it mixes together in one document material that properly belongs in three different documents— rules of the game, administrative procedures, and guidelines for umpires. In particular, mixing guidelines for umpires with rules of the game blurs the difference between the two. The rules about “putting things back” are a good illustration of this problem.

There are a variety of ways in which a ball (boule or jack) can be moved illegally during a game. When a ball is illegally moved, players then confront the question of whether they should leave it where it is, or put it back in its original location.

putting_back_a_petanque_boule

Here is what the FIPJP rules say.

Article 12 – Jack masked or displaced … To avoid all disagreement, the players must mark the position of the jack. No claim will be accepted [by an umpire] regarding unmarked boules or an unmarked jack.

Article 22 – Displaced boules … To avoid all disagreement, the players must mark the boules. No claim will be admissible [by an umpire] for an unmarked boule, and the umpire will make his decision based only on the locations of the boules on the terrain.

Basically, this boils down to a set of guidelines for umpires and a separate set of guidelines (advice, really) for players.

Guidelines for Umpires
When making a decision concerning an illegally-moved ball (boule or jack) an umpire will ignore any claim by players about the original location of the ball if that original location is not marked, and will make his decision based only on the current locations of the balls on the terrain.

Guidelines for Players
An umpire will ignore any claim that you might make about the original location of a ball if that original location is not marked. Therefore, the only way that you can be sure that an umpire will return an illegally-moved ball to its original location is (a) always to mark the current location of every ball on the terrain, and (b) always to create new marks and erase old marks whenever any of the balls is moved.

These guidelines generate a lot of discussion on online petanque forums. What I want to emphasize in this post is that players are not bound by the guidelines for umpires. If you are a player in a social game where there is no umpire, the guidelines for umpires are irrelevant. You and your fellow players are free to restore an illegally-moved ball (say, a jack accidentally moved during measurement) to its original location and carry on with your game. (Here, “its original location” means in effect “a location agreeable to both teams”. This is an important feature of the rules of Petanque Libre, which are specifically designed for games where there is no umpire.)

Even if you are playing in an umpired game you are NOT required to call in an umpire if a ball is moved illegally. Without calling in an umpire, the two teams are free to restore an illegally-moved ball to its original location and carry on with their game.


Deliberately picking up one of your own boules

In the 2016 revision of the FIPJP rules, a paragraph was added to the end of Article 27.

Article 27 – Picked-up boules
It is forbidden for players to pick up played boules before the end of the mene.
At the end of a mene, any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead. No claim is admissible on this subject.
▶If a player picks up his boules from the game terrain while his partners have boules remaining, they will not be allowed to play them.◀

Paragraph 3 was a good idea. Before it was added, if a player deliberately picked up one of his/her own played boules, the boule was dead and that was that. The player achieved his goal (to remove the boule) and there were no negative consequences for the player.

But… why would a player ever want deliberately to remove one of his own boules?

Suppose that you are playing on team B when one of the following situations arises.

  1. Team A has thrown all of their boules, while your team still has four boules to play. The front is almost completely open, just waiting for you to point those four boules and score four points. But there is a problem. One of your own boules, B1, is sitting exactly on the ideal donnée for your pointing throws. When it was first thrown it was a great blocking boule, but now it is blocking you rather than the opponents. You wish it was out of there.
     
  2. Your team has one point one the ground. If you could shoot away opposing boule A1, your team could score four points. But boule B1, one of your own boules, is right behind A1, kissing it. You’re familiar with Newton’s cradle and you know the physics of this situation. If you shoot A1, B1 will go flying and A1 will hardly move. You wish boule B1 wasn’t there, so you could shoot A1.

newtons_cradle_animation_book_2

In these situations it would be to your advantage to pick up and remove your own boule. It would be worth it even if the umpire gave you a warning. In a friendly game there’d be no umpire; you wouldn’t even get a warning. Soon, perhaps, the idea would spread that removing one of your own boules was a recognized and acceptable part of the game.

The new paragraph in Article 27 fixes that problem. The new rule eliminates any possible benefit from deliberately picking up one of your own boules.

The new rule also creates a problem for umpires. Suppose that Ben, the captain of Team B, (accidentally?) kicks boule B1. Now the umpire must decide whether Ben’s action was or was not deliberate. If it was an accident, then boule B1 stays where Ben kicked it. But if Ben deliberately kicked B1 (in effect, removing it from the terrain), then Team B’s remaining unplayed boules are dead. But the umpire is not a mind reader. How can he know whether Ben’s action was deliberate or accidental?

Or should the umpire strictly follow the letter of the law and rule that kicking a boule is not the same thing as picking it up, so the new rule does not apply. If he does, then we’re back where we started. Ben can’t pick up his boule with impunity, but he can “accidentally” kick it away.


This post is an excerpt from the next edition of A Guide to the Rules of Petanque, now in preparation.


Marking the locations of balls

In petanque, there are only a few things that can legally move a boule or jack. It can be thrown by a player. It can fall onto the terrain and bounce or roll. It can hit or be hit by another ball in the game. And that’s about it. On the other hand, there are a lot of non-legal things that can move a ball. The wind. The shoe of any human being. A zombie boule bouncing back onto the terrain. A child or an animal or a football crossing the terrain. Being thrown “contrary to the rules”. In such non-legal events, the default course of action is to leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.

The FIPJP rules mention another option— to put the ball back in its original location if that original location was marked. Some players take the repeated references to marking the balls as an indication that they should always mark the locations of everything. That’s nonsense.

  • In normal play nobody does it.  On Youtube you will not find a single petanque video in which the players routinely mark even the jack.  (Marking the location of the thrown jack is an old custom, but one that faded a long time ago.)
  • It would slow down the game tremendously while offering very little in real benefits. That’s why nobody does it.
  • Marking everything is a terrible idea.  There were enough problems with circles drawn on the ground, back before plastic circles appeared in 2005. If you tried to mark the location of every ball all of the time (including erasing and creating new marks when a ball is hit and moved) there would be so many marks on the ground that, if you wanted to return a moved boule to its original location, you wouldn’t be able to find that location in the crowd of marks on the ground.  To control the mess, you’d need to sweep the terrain after every mene.

So always marking the locations of balls is a bad idea. On the other hand, the wise player will mark the locations of balls when there is an increased likelihood that they might be moved illegally.

  • On a windy day: mark the jack in case it might be moved by the wind.
  • If another game moves into a position where its boules might come onto your terrain: mark the locations of your balls.  
  • If the jack is located close to a wooden sideboard: mark the location of the jack and close-by boules. That way, if a thrown boule hits the sideboard, bounces back in-bounds, and illegally moves something, you can put the illegally-moved balls back.

So if you’re out playing with your friends, and nothing is marked, and a ball is moved in some non-legal fashion, you have two options. The first is simply to leave everything where it is and carry on. The second (sometimes) is to put it back.


Picking up a boule too soon

Sometimes a player picks up a boule too soon. It happens all the time. Given the frequency with which it happens, it’s amazing how much confusion there is about how to deal with it.

picking_up_boules

If a boule is picked up too soon, what should we do?

This question never comes up if the original location of the boule was marked. If the boule’s position was marked, we simply put the boule back and carry on with the game. But what should we do if a boule’s original location was NOT marked and it is picked up too soon?

There are two different kinds of situation, which are covered by different rules.

  • CASE A — A boule is picked up before all boules have been thrown.
     
  • CASE B — A boule is picked up after all boules have been thrown, but before completion of the agreement of points.

CASE A is covered by Article 21—

If a stationary boule is displaced by the wind or slope of the ground, it is put back in its place. The same applies to any boule accidentally displaced by a player….

A boule that is picked up by a player is considered to have been accidentally moved by the player. The corrective action specified in Article 21 is to put the boule back in its original place.

Article 21 doesn’t say anything about the boule’s original place being marked. Apparently the intent of the rule is that the players should agree among themselves as to the approximate original location of the boule, and then put it back there.[1] If there is any question about where that original place is, then we should probably apply the Advantage Rule, and allow the offended party (the team whose boule was moved) to reposition the moved boule.


CASE B is covered by Article 26—

At the end of a mène, any boule picked up before the agreement of points is dead.

The corrective action specified in Article 26 is to declare the picked-up boule to be dead.

This corrective action is appropriate if the boule was picked up by the team to which it belongs. But it is clearly be unreasonable if it permits a player on one team to kill an opposing team’s boule simply by picking it up. That leaves us with a difficult question.

If, during the agreement of points, a member of one team picks up a boule belonging to the opposing team, what do we do?

If the picked-up boule could never have contributed to the score of the mene, then of course we don’t worry about it.

But if it might have contributed to the score, then the most reasonable thing is to apply the Advantage Rule and have the offended party (the team whose boule was picked up) reposition the boule in its original location. Then measurement and the agreement of points can carry on as before.

It is possible, of course, that the offended team will deliberately position the boule in a location that is different from, and more advantageous than, its true original location. That would be a violation of sportsmanship, certainly. But the offending team (the team that prematurely picked up their opponent’s boule) has no right to protest. It is the price that they must pay for their carelessness.


[1]
Note that the wording of Article 21 is almost identical to the wording of Article 11. Article 21 applies to boules, while Article 11 applies to the jack. Article 11 contains the clause “provided the position had been marked”, which Article 21 does not.

Article 11 contains three sentences that talk only about the jack. Then there is a fourth sentence with a rule for the umpires— “No claim can be accepted [by an umpire] regarding boules or jack whose position has not been marked.” A similar remark directed at umpires appears in Article 21. This mixing-in of rules for the umpires with rules for the players occurs in several places in the FIPJP rules, and is one of the most serious defects of the rules. It makes reliable interpretation of the FIPJP rules impossible. (See our post What’s wrong with the FIPJP rules.)

The opinion in this post follows the 2011 ruling by Jean-Claude Dubois, president of the French National Umpires Committee, on a related question— what to do when the circle is picked up too soon. It also follows our general principles for applying the rules.It is impossible, however, to know how a particular umpire in a particular game will rule.


This article was originally posted in April 2015, but almost completely re-written in October 2015. I have not deleted the comments on the original version, which may still be of value. But some of them may refer to text that does not appear in the current version of the post.


Picking up the circle too soon

[revised 2021-12-21]
picking_up_the_circleWhat should we do when a player accidentally picks up the throwing circle before all boules have been thrown?

On March 30, 2011 Jean-Claude Dubois, then president of the CNA (the National Umpires Committee of the French Petanque Federation), wrote the following memo. Our archive of the memo is HERE.


 
WHEN A PLAYER, AFTER PLAYING HIS LAST BOULE, INADVERTENTLY PICKS UP THE THROWING CIRCLE BEFORE THE MENE IS COMPLETE.
[That is, when there is still one unplayed boule.]

This can happen in two different situations.

The circle was marked

  • The circle is put back in its place, and the player (partner or opponent) who still has the unplayed boule plays it to finish the mene.

The circle was not marked
Here again, this can happen in two different situations.

  • The unplayed boule belongs to one of the player’s partners. In this case, the unplayed boule is dead.
     
  • The unplayed boule belongs to one of the opponents. In this case, the opponent should put the throwing circle back in its place, even if this can be done only approximately, and the opponent plays his ball to finish the mene.

In all cases, the offending player receives a warning.
The same rules apply if there are still several balls left to play.

Jean-Claude Dubois
Président de la CNA


In 2016, Article 6 of the FIPJP rules was revised to include some, but not all of the ideas in Dubois’ memo.

In all cases the circles should be marked before the throw of the jack. … If a player picks up the circle when there remain boules to be played, the circle is put back in place but only the opponents [i.e. the offended team] are allowed to play their boules.

Note that unlike Dubois’ memo, the FIPJP rules say that the offending team is forbidden to throw its remaining boules regardless of whether or not the circle was marked.

Note that if the circle was not marked, the umpire will almost certainly give a warning (yellow card) to the player who placed the circle but failed to mark it.

If the circle was not marked, who should put the throwing circle back in its place? The FIPJP rules don’t say. A good rule can be found in the rules interpretation guidelines of Petanque New Zealand.

If a pre-fabricated circle is moved accidentally by a player and the circle was unmarked, it is to be replaced by agreement between the two teams as close as possible to where it was originally. If no agreement can be reached, the umpire will place the circle in the most logical place.

Should the umpire give a warning (yellow card) to the player who prematurely picked up the circle? Dubois’ memo said YES. The FIPJP rules leave the matter up to the discretion of the umpire.

When a player stops a moving jack or boule

[updated 2021-09-01]
One frequently-asked question about the rules is— Suppose that the jack or a boule is hit and sent flying. And suppose that a player accidentally stops (or deflects) that moving jack or boule. What should be done?

The answer depends on whether the the ball that was stopped was a jack or a boule, and whether or not its original location was marked.

When the jack is stopped

Article 15 says—

  • If the jack’s original location was not marked, there is only one thing to do. The jack is left where it came to rest and the game continues.
     
  • If the jack’s original location was marked, then the offended team (i.e. the opponents of the player who interfered with the jack) may apply an “advantage rule”. They may choose among THREE options.
    – They may leave the jack where it is.
    – They may put it back in its original location.
    – They may (within limits) put it where it would have gone if it hadn’t been stopped.

The FIPJP rules describe the third option this way.

Place it [the jack] on the extension of a line going from its original location to the place where it is located, up to a maximum distance of 20 meters from the circle.

This raises another question.— What is the “extension” of a line?

Suppose you have two points, A and B. Draw a line from point A to point B and then keep on going, extending the line indefinitely. When you do this, the part of the line that extends out beyond B is called the “extension” of the line from A to B.

So the third option says that the offended team may start with the jack’s original (marked) location, walk toward its current location, pick up the jack and keep walking in a straight line. They can put the jack down where ever they like— within specified limits. The limits for placing the jack are— the jack can’t be placed farther than 20 meters from the circle.

Note that on an open terrain (without any marked dead-ball lines), the jack is dead if it is located more than 20 meters from the circle. So the third option’s 20-meter limit means that on an open terrain you can’t place the jack so far from the circle that you kill it.

On the other hand, under competition conditions (played on a marked terrain 4×15 meters) the third option allows the offended team to place the jack outside the game’s dead-ball line, killing it. This is A Good Thing. Jacks often go out-of-bounds when a team deliberately shoots and kills the jack. When a jack is deliberately and successfully shot— but then accidentally stopped— clearly the fair thing to do is to declare the jack to be dead.

When a boule is stopped

Article 20 says—

  • If the boule’s original location was not marked, there is only one thing to do. The boule is left where it came to rest and the game continues.
     
  • If the boule’s original location was marked, then the offended team (which may or may not be the owner of the boule) may apply an advantage rule. They may choose among TWO options.
    – They may leave the boule where it is.
    – They may (within limits) put it where it would have gone if it hadn’t been stopped.

The limits for placing the boule are— the boule can’t be placed outside of the boundaries of the playable area. That is, it can’t be placed on dead ground.


Advantage Rule differences

There are differences between the advantage rules for a stopped jack and a stopped boule.

  • The jack’s advantage rule allows a jack to be put down on dead ground and killed, but that can’t be done for a stopped boule.
     
  • The boule’s advantage rule offers two options, rather than the jack’s three. An offended team has the option of placing a stopped jack back in its original (marked) location, but that’s not an option for a stopped boule.


Handling a stopped jack after the 2020 rules revision

Before 2020, if a team deliberately shot the jack in an attempt to kill it, and the jack was clearly headed out-of-bounds when a player accidentally stopped it, the umpire always ruled that the jack must be left where it was stopped. This was clearly unfair, but the umpire was not to blame. He was simply applying the rule as it was written. The jack’s original location was virtually never marked, which meant that the umpire could not allow the offended team to invoke the advantage rule, which meant that the stopped jack could not be declared to be dead. This very unfair situation sometimes led to serious conflict between players and umpires.

That changed with the 2020 FIPJP rules revision. Now the jack must always be marked. That means that the offended team will almost always have the option of invoking the advantage rule and killing the jack. In this way the new rule (that the jack must be marked) really improves the fairness of the rules.