Dead ground between the jack and the throwing circle

The Dead Ground Rule in Article 9 says that “The jack is dead … when an out-of-bounds area [terrain interdit, dead ground] is situated between the jack and the throwing circle.” What does “between the jack and the throwing circle” mean?

Consider this diagram. (Note that it is not drawn to scale.) A game is being played on an L-shaped terrain. The jack has been knocked to a place where it is almost, but not completely, “around the corner” from the circle. Or, to put it another way, an area of dead ground is protruding into the terrain; it may possibly be blocking the line of play between the circle and the jack.

The players are uncertain what to do; they are asking questions: Is the jack alive or dead? Is there dead ground between jack and the circle?

What does “between the jack and the circle” mean?

The answer is that “between the jack and the circle” means “between the jack and any part of the circle”.

Suppose you draw lines from the jack to all of the parts of the circle, as in this diagram. If any of those lines crosses dead ground, then there is dead ground between the jack and the circle, and the jack is dead.

Mike Pegg described the rule this way on “Ask the Umpire”.

Imagine two lines extending from the two sides of the circle to the jack. If there is any dead ground between those two lines, the jack is dead.

Visual inspection should be enough to resolve the situation, but if it isn’t, you can take a long tape measure and pull it tight between the jack and various random points on the circle. If in any of those positions the tape crosses dead ground, there is dead ground between the jack and the circle, and the jack is dead.

Zombie boules

A zombie boule is a boule that dies and then returns to life and attacks the living. It is a boule that is knocked out of bounds, hits something, rebounds back onto the terrain, and then moves or deflects or stops still-living balls (boules or the jack). When that happens we are confronted by The Zombie Boule Question:

A zombie boule has interfered with the game. What should we do?


Article 19, which covers dead boules, gives us these instructions for dealing with zombies.

Any boule is dead from the moment that it enters an out-of-bounds area. … If the boule then comes back onto the game terrain, either because of the slope of the ground, or because it rebounds off of an obstacle, moving or stationary, it is immediately removed from the game and anything that it displaced after its trip through the out-of-bounds area is put back in its original location provided that those objects had been marked.   [Note that the words “provided that those objects had been marked” were added in the 2016 rules revision.]

The problem with this rule is that “putting things back in their original places” is a useless concept. In real life, the original places of balls are never marked, so under FIPJP rules it is not possible to put things back in their original places. And who knows what “original place” means for a ball that was in motion when it was stopped or deflected by a zombie? If an umpire is called in to make a decision in a Zombie Boule situation, he will always rule that the zombie boule should be removed, everything else should be left where it is, and the game should continue.

As soon as we forget the notion of “putting things back in their original places”, everything becomes easy. What might help, perhaps, is a way of thinking about zombie boules that makes it easy to see the answer to a Zombie Boule Question. Something like this.

A boule that goes out of bounds is dead. After a boule is dead, if it interacts in any way with a live ball, it is treated as part of the terrain (like a stone). As soon as possible after a boule dies, it should be moved to a location outside of, and well away from, the dead-ball line and left on the ground. [See the rules of Petanque Libre.]

Thinking about zombie boules this way won’t change the way that zombie boules should be dealt with. But it might make it easier to see the right answer in some zombie-boule situations. Like this one.

Boule A is hit by boule B. Boule A is knocked across the dead-ball line and is stopped by the wooden sideboard. Boule B quickly follows. Normally boule B would go out-of-bounds, but in this case it is stopped by boule A. It doesn’t completely cross the dead-ball line. (See the diagram, below.) Is boule B dead?


The answer is— NO. Boule B never went completely out-of-bounds so it is not dead. The fact that the object that stopped boule B was a dead boule makes no difference whatsoever. As far as a live boule is concerned, a dead boule on or near the terrain is just another feature of the terrain, like a rock or a tree root. When boule A stopped boule B from crossing the dead-ball line, it was just as if a rock or root on the terrain had stopped boule B.

The same situation can play itself out more slowly. Suppose that Boule A is knocked out of bounds. Then another boule is played. Then another boule is played. Then boule B is played, and ends up being stopped by boule A. In this situation international umpire Mike Pegg has ruled that

The player of boule A and his team is given a warning for not removing the dead boule.

I take it that Mike is acting on a rule interpretation in which “the terrain” includes not just the in-bounds area but also the out-of-bounds area to some unspecified distance from the dead-ball line. That’s why he has also stated (the underscores are mine) that

anything (boule, bag, etc.) on the terrain and in a position that it would stop a boule or jack from completely crossing the dead ball line should be removed. Which is why you often see umpires moving bags and the like to the other side of the timber surround.

This is why the rules of Petanque Libre specify that

During a game played on a marked terrain, dead boules should be left on the ground at least 10cm outside of the game’s dead-ball line. A dead boule that is less than 10cm outside the dead-ball line should be moved away from the dead-ball line.

This post was updated for the 2016 FIPJP rules revision.
It supercedes earlier posts about zombie boules.

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…

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.

When the jack is knocked out of sight

Petanque jack (hidden by tree)

Petanque jack (hidden by tree)

[updated 2018-12-17]
In games played on an open terrain, sometimes the jack is hit and knocked behind a tree or rock so that it can’t be seen from the circle. When that happens, Article 9 of the FIPJP rules is relevant. It says that the displaced jack is dead if it is not visible from the circle. This seems like a simple rule, but there can be problems when trying to apply it.

Who decides whether or not the jack is visible from the circle?
Article 7 of the FIPJP rules says that the jack must be visible to a player whose feet are placed at the extreme limits of the interior of the circle and whose body is absolutely upright. In case of a disagreement about this matter, the umpire decides if the jack is visible.

Suppose Alan is in the circle, ready to throw. But he can’t see the jack, which has been knocked behind a large rock on the terrain. So the jack is dead. What could be simpler?

Suppose, however, that Bill steps into the circle, to verify that the jack really cannot be seen from the circle. Bill says that he can see the jack easily. Is the jack dead?

The FIPJP rules, which are designed for use in umpired competitions, say that Alan and Bill should call in an umpire to decide. But this is a friendly, informal game; there is no umpire. Who decides? The FIPJP rules have no answer to this question.

Suppose, however, that an umpire is available. He is called in and says that he can see the jack, so the jack is not dead. But that leaves Alan with a problem, because he still cannot see the jack. Oh, did I mention that Alan is playing from a wheelchair? His head is much lower than the umpire’s head, which is why the umpire could see the jack, but Alan could not. Shouldn’t the umpire take this fact into account when deciding whether or not the jack is visible? Mike Pegg’s answer is NO. “[This rule] may put the disabled player at a disadvantage but when entering the event they would know what the rules are.”[1]

The rules of Petanque Libre (PL) are designed for use in non-umpired games, and PL gives a different answer. Under PL, “If the jack is moved, both teams are responsible for agreeing that the jack in its new location is visible from the circle. If a team has a player who has unplayed boules and that player cannot see the jack while standing in the circle, the team will not agree that the jack is visible; otherwise the team will agree that the jack is visible.” So in this case, when playing by the rules of Petanque Libre, when the jack was hit and knocked behind the stone, Alan’s team would challenge the visibility of the jack. Since one of the team’s members (Alan) could not see the jack from the circle, his team would not agree that the jack is visible and the jack would be declared dead.

What happens when the jack is knocked out of sight by the last boule?
Suppose the jack is knocked behind a tree by the last boule to be played. Nobody is going to throw another boule. So it seems like it shouldn’t matter whether or not the jack is visible from the circle. Is the jack dead?

The answer that an FIPJP umpire will give is— “Article 9 says that if the jack is shot out of sight, it is dead. It doesn’t say that the jack is dead unless there are no more boules left to be played. So YES, the jack is dead.” The problem with this answer is that there is no player in the circle to decide whether or not he can see the jack, and in an informal game there is no umpire to make the decision.

The Petanque Libre position on this question is that the visibility rule exists to insure that no player must throw toward a jack that he cannot see. But after all boules have been thrown, questions about the visibility of the jack are moot. Therefore— “After all boules have been thrown, neither team may challenge the visibility of the jack.”

[1] See Mike’s answer to the question posed by Brian Harris on “Ask the Umpire”, 2017-04-26