Moving a boule while measuring

Here is a Frequently Asked Question about moving a boule during measuring.

Article 28 says:

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.

The question is:

Boules A1 and B1 appear to be the same distance from the jack. While measuring, Albert (from team A) accidentally bumps B1 a few millimeters farther away from the jack. So (per Article 28, because Team A moved a boule while measuring) Team A loses the point. Boule A1 loses the point, boule B1 has the point, and Team A plays the next boule.

During the agreement of points, Team A starts to use the normal point-counting procedure. A1 is closer to the jack than B1, so Team A naturally says that A1 beats B1. Team B disagrees, arguing that A1 earlier lost the point to B1. What is the correct ruling?

In replies to this question on Ask the Umpire, international umpire Mike Pegg has ruled that as long as none of the involved balls (jack, A1, B1) has been moved, when points are counted A1 cannot be counted as beating B1. In other places he has ruled that A1 does not count in a measure for points as long as neither the jack nor A1 has been moved during play. The bottom line is that Team B is correct— when points are counted, A1 must still be considered farther away from the jack than B1.

Accidentally moving a ball while measuring is an illegal event. An “illegal event” is an event that is not possible within the rules of the game, but that is physically possible and actually occurs in real life. (In chess, for instance, accidentally upsetting the board is not a legal move, but sometimes it happens.) The ideal response to an illegal event is to undo it: to put everything back where it was before the illegal event occurred. In petanque, this would mean that the two teams would agree on how to put the illegally-moved things back. (This is the philosophy of Petanque Libre.)

Interestingly, Mike Pegg has suggested that it is possible for the two teams to agree to undo an illegal event even in a game supervised by FIPJP umpires. If an unmarked boule is moved accidentally, he says, agree with your opponent to replace the boule. “Do not call the umpire because if you do he or she will say the boule must remain where it is.”

Simply leaving everything where it is after an illegal event, rather than undoing the event, can lead to unfair decisions. In our example, if A1 had been bumped (so that its location but not its distance from the jack had been changed) A1 would have had the point. This might have given Team A the game and even the competition victory. Naturally, Team B would be upset. They would feel that Albert’s illegal action— which, despite its illegality, was allowed to stand— had robbed them of what might have been the winning point. And they would be right. Mike Pegg says

For team B this may seem a little unfair given the outcome of other boules being played but they should have marked their boule.

Mike’s remark reminds us that when nothing is marked, an FIPJP umpire must rule that everything should be left where it is. If a team complains about unfairness, the umpire’s response is to blame the players for not marking their boules. It is a feeble response, but it is the only defense that the umpire has against charges of unfairness.

Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category


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.


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.

Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category

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.

Read other posts in the Putting Things Back category