The “landing strip” for a thrown jack

See other posts about boundaries and boundary lines.

updated 2021-05-25
The rules governing the thrown jack were dramatically changed in the 2020 revision of the FIPJP rules. Under the current (2020) rules, the landing strip covers the entire lane except for two small areas, 50cm deep, at each end of the lane. For more about the new rules, see THIS.
The information in this post is now obsolete. The post has been retained for any historical interest that it might have.


Article 7 specifies a number of distance-related constraints on a thrown jack. One of them is that “the jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from … the nearest boundary of an out-of-bounds area.”   This can create a problem on narrow lanes.

We are playing on a marked terrain that is 3 meters wide. Does the one-meter rule in Article 7 mean that the area where we can legally throw the jack— the “landing strip” as it were— is only one meter wide running down the middle of the terrain?

The answer to the question is “Yes, but it really depends on whether or not the terrain’s side lines are also dead-ball lines.”

The landing strip

Suppose that we have a playing area that contains only one marked terrain (one lane, piste, cadre), so that the boundary lines of all four sides are dead-ball lines. The lane is 4m wide and 15m long. If we measure one meter in from each of the four boundaries, then we have a landing strip in the middle of the lane that is 2m wide and 13m long. If the lane is only 3m wide, the landing strip is only one meter wide.

Things get more interesting when we have a big playing area that we divide into a grid of lanes using strings. The strings around the exterior of the grid, and the strings across the short ends of the lanes, are dead-ball lines. The other strings (the ones that cut up the playing area up into separate lanes) are “guide lines”— they indicate the boundaries of the lanes, but they aren’t dead-ball lines.

landing_strip_for_grid

Look at lane A. On its left side is an exterior dead-ball line; on its right side is a neighboring lane (B). So the landing strip for lane A is lop-sided. On one side, the landing strip stays one meter from the exterior dead-ball line, but on the other side it goes right up to the guide line with lane B. If the lanes are 4m wide, the landing strip for lane A is 3m wide, but the landing strip for lane B extends the full width of the lane and is 4m wide.

When the landing strip is too narrow

There are other situations where the landing strip is only one meter wide. Under FIPJP rules, region competitions may be played on a lane that is only 3m wide. And in time-limited games, all four boundaries of a lane are considered to be dead-ball lines. This means that in a time-limited game on a lane 3m wide— a common situation— the landing strip for each lane is only one meter wide.

This can happen even in games without time limits, if the lanes are arranged in a long strip. This kind of arrangement is quite common for competitions that are played on long, narrow areas like the paths in a public park or along a waterfront.

In order to deal with the problems of a too-narrow landing strip, many competitions reduce the jack’s required minimum distance to half a meter from a side dead-ball line. So even on a lane that is only 3m wide, the landing strip will still be at least 2m wide.

In 2016, the FIPJP adopted this practice for time-limited games— now Article 7 says— The jack must be a minimum of 1 meter from any obstacle and from the nearest edge of an out-of-bounds area. This distance is reduced to 50cm in time-limited games, except for lines at the foot of lanes.


What is a “rigid” circle?

Article 6 specifies that

Where a prefabricated (matérialisé) circle is used, it must be rigid (rigide)

circle_folding_plasticWhat kind of work is the word “rigid” doing in this sentence? When it comes to a plastic circle, what is the opposite of rigid? One of those folding plastic circles?

Plastic circles were introduced around 2004. If you go to YouTube and watch the 2004 final of the Petanque Masters, you will see something interesting.

At about 13:15 Claudy Weibel carries a plastic circle off of the terrain, while one of his team-mates brings another plastic circle onto the opposite end of the terrain. As Claudy carries it, the circle dangles from his hand like a piece of cooked spaghetti or a bicycle inner tube.

circle_early_floppy_plastic

In the next few seconds, you can see his team-mate at the far end of the terrain placing the other circle. He doesn’t just throw it down and step into it, the way we do today. He lays it on the ground, then fiddles with it, and then fiddles with it some more, until he can get it to lay flat in a proper circular shape.

This must have been an early prototype of a plastic circle. This is what the opposite of rigid looks like.

You can see it again at about 22:33, and get a nice clear view at about 34:52. It really is limp and floppy.

Dealing with a pushed jack, and other questions about challenging the jack

measuring_10_meters
[Updated: 2021-06-12]
This post was originally written in 2015. In 2020, Article 6 of the FIPJP rules was modified to include the stipulation that "The players must mark the position of the jack initially and after each time it is moved." This means that in the future the Pushed Jack Question will rarely, if ever, arise in umpired competitions. It may still, of course, occur in casual games.

The Pushed Jack Question is one of the perennial questions about the rules of petanque— players never stop asking it. The question is actually two questions.

Team A throws out the jack and the first boule.
The first boule hits and moves (“pushes”) the jack.
Can team B challenge the jack?
If the jack is challenged, how do the teams determine the validity of the jack?
 

The answers to these two questions are—

  1. YES, Team B can challenge the jack.
  2. The validity of the jack is determined by measuring the distance between the circle and the jack’s current (“pushed”) location. If the jack is between 6 and 10 meters from the circle, it is valid.

NOTE THAT

  • This is different from a case in which the jack was thrown, its location was marked, and then it was pushed by the first boule. In such a case the teams measure to the marked location. Some umpires say that the proper procedure is to place (another) jack in the marked location, and then measure to that jack, but that seems a bit pedantic.
     
  • When players ask the Pushed Jack Question they are usually concerned about the jack’s distance from the circle. But the Pushed Jack Question can also be raised when there are concerns about the jack’s distance from a dead-ball line or a pointing obstacle. Note that, regardless of why the question was raised, the procedure for answering it is the same.


This answer to the Pushed Jack Question has been the FIPJP’s official, but unwritten, position since 1996, when the FIPJP Technical Committee discussed it during a meeting at the World Championships in Germany.[1]  It is the answer French umpires have given for years, and it is the answer given in the FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires (2015).

One reason that players continue to ask the question is that for many years international umpire Mike Pegg maintained (on his “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group) that a pushed jack could not be challenged. His position was that the requirements for a valid throw of the jack apply to a THROWN jack, not a MOVED jack. Since the jack’s original position (before it was moved) was not marked, there is no way to prove that its original position was not valid. Team B therefore has no grounds on which to base a challenge. This changed in May 2016 when FIPJP president Claude Azema sent a directive to FIPJP umpires, making the official FIPJP position clear and explicit. However, it was not until March 2017, in response to a question on “Ask the Umpire”, that Mike reported that he had reversed his position because of Azema’s directive. Mike now agrees with the FIPJP’s (still unwritten) official position.[2]


Other questions about challenging the jack

To “challenge the jack” is to request that the game be paused so that it can be verified that all of the requirements for a valid jack (which are specified in Article 7) are being met. Article 8 describes the the Challenge Rule— the procedures for challenging the jack. Here is a simplified restatement of the rule.

After the jack has been thrown, either team may challenge the validity of the jack at any time until it (the team) has thrown its first boule. After a team has thrown its first boule, it no longer has the right to challenge the jack. Neither team may challenge the jack after the jack has been measured and shown to be valid. A team that manually places the jack may not challenge it.

Some players like to throw the jack and the first boule so quickly that the opposing team has no time to raise a challenge. The Challenge Rule allows the opposing team to challenge the jack even after the first boule has been thrown.

There are a number of questions that come up about the Challenge Rule.

Q1: Can team B challenge the jack after verbally accepting it?
Team A throws the jack. The player says “Hmmm. What do you think? Too long?” The captain of Team B says “Looks good to me.” Team A points the first boule. It is very good. Team B begins to think that the jack may be long after all. Can team B still challenge the jack?

Answer: YES, team B still has the right to challenge the jack. The FIPJP rules do not recognize any way to verbally accept the jack, so (according to the FIPJP rules) when the captain of team B says “It looks good to me,” he is merely expressing his personal opinion; he is not waiving his team’s right to challenge the jack.

To verbally accept the jack and then challenge it strikes some players as gamesmanship or even poor sportsmanship. That might be true in friendly play, but it is not illegal— no FIPJP rule is being broken. Don’t let it distract you. Stay calm and carry on.

Q2: Can team A challenge the jack AFTER throwing the first boule?
Team A throws the jack. Team A then points the first boule. Team A then begins to have doubts — perhaps the jack was thrown too long. Can team A challenge the jack?

Answer: NO. After a team has thrown its first boule, it no longer has the right to challenge the jack. Team A has thrown its first boule. Its window of opportunity for challenging the jack has closed.

Q3: Can team B challenge a jack that is pushed beyond 10 meters by the first boule, if the jack’s original position was measured?
Team A throws the jack. They measure the distance. It is 9.95m— valid. Team A then points the first boule. The boule hits the jack and pushes it. Now the jack is clearly more than 10 meters from the circle. Can team B challenge the jack?

Answer: NO. Neither team may challenge the jack after the jack has been measured and shown to be valid. Players sometimes cite a mythical rule that “the second team has a right to play to a jack between 6 and 10 meters”, and argue that the jack is invalid because it is now more than 10 meters from the circle. But in actuality there is no such rule. In this situation, the jack has been measured and shown to be valid. It therefore cannot be challenged.

Q4: Can team B challenge a jack that is pushed beyond 10 meters by the first boule, if the jack’s original position was marked?
Team A throws the jack and marks it. Team A then points the first boule. The boule hits the jack and pushes it. Can Team B challenge the jack?

Answer: YES. Team B can challenge the jack. The thrown jack’s validity can be determined by measuring the distance from the circle to the marked position.

Q5: “The players must mark the position of the jack initially and after each time it is moved.” Which team is responsible for doing the marking?

Answer: The team that throws or places the jack is responsible for marking its location at the beginning of the mene. Thereafter, if a team throws a boule that directly or indirectly moves the jack, that team is responsible for marking the jack’s new location. A team may not play against a jack whose location is not marked, so if the jack is moved by the wind, the team that plays the next boule is responsible for insuring that the jack’s new location has been marked before they play their next boule.


Tips for avoiding problems with challenging the jack

When your team throws the jack, play in a courteous manner. After throwing the jack, pause. Ask the other team if it looks OK to them, and wait for their answer. This gives the other team a chance to challenge the jack if they want to.

Some teams are in the habit of verbally accepting the jack, and then later challenging it. If you’re playing such a team, accept the fact that what they are doing is perfectly legal. If you let yourself become upset over the opposing team’s “poor sportsmanship”, you shoot yourself in the foot as far as “the mental game” is concerned. So be mellow; keep calm and carry on.


FOOTNOTES

[1] This was reported by Mike Pegg himself in a 1999 post on petanque.org. Unfortunately, the original petanque.org website is now gone.

[2] For Mike’s old position, see THIS and THIS.
For Mike’s revised position as of March 2017, see THIS.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to obtain a copy of Azema’s 2016 directive, so the FIPJP’s official position is still undocumented.

Clearing the circle

Perhaps the least understood of all the rules is this “mystery clause” from Article 6.

The interior of the circle can be completely cleared at any time during the mene, but its state must be restored at its end [i.e. at the end of the mene].

Now, all experienced petanque players are familiar with the taboo on grooming the terrain during a game, and specifically the taboo against removing anything – a leaf or a pebble – from the terrain during a game. As Article 10 says —

It is strictly forbidden for players to press down, displace or crush any obstacle whatever on the playing area.

Being familiar with this taboo, the best interpretation that players can put on the mystery clause is that it creates an exception to the taboo. That is, it allows you to remove a leaf or pebble from the terrain but only if —

  1. The leaf or pebble is inside the circle.
  2. You put the leaf or pebble back in its original position at the end of the mene.

Presumably this exception is to permit a player to temporarily groom the inside of the circle in order to insure a solid footing while throwing.

Still… interpreted this way, the rule is odd. Would a leaf or a few pebbles really impair a thrower’s footing? If a player needs to clear only a leaf or a pebble, why would the rule say that the circle can be “completely” cleared? What exactly does does the word “completely” mean here? And of course the requirement to put the leaf or pebble back in its exact original place seems silly.

Players know that the rule is odd. I’ve seen a few occasions when a player really did remove a twig from the circle. Nobody objects. But the player gets a lot of jokes about, say, marking the position of the twig so he can put it exactly back in its original position after he throws. And of course, he never bothers to do it. That would be absurd.

So— players clearly know that the rule is odd, but they give it the most sensible interpretation that they can.


As it happens, this interpretation of the mystery clause — while completely understandable — is wrong.

During a discussion on his “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group, English international umpire Mike Pegg revealed the true meaning of the rule. (Note that Mike, as an international umpire, is a member of the FIPJP Umpires Commission, the group that writes the rules.)

As for the evolution or development of the rules… each time we get a problem that is not covered by the rules we look to either adapt a current rule or if that is not possible we write a new one.

But the basics of the rules have been designed with the World Championships as first priority. For example:

At the 1996 World Champs (Essen) the terrain was very deep and it was impossible to draw a circle (this was before resin circles). The players were permitted to remove the stones to make a flat circular area. They used their feet to push the stones into a circular shape revealing a hard flatter surface underneath.

At the next rule review, the rules about the circle were modified to allow the removal of the stones.

This worked, but of course it left huge circular craters in the terrain. As Mike says —

Of course no one thought about restoring the area after the mene so we had a few issues to deal with during play.

At the next rule review (2002), the rules about the circle were modified to allow the removal of the stones. But the rules also state that the area must be reinstated after the mene.

So the bottom line is that when Article 6 says

The interior of the circle can be completely cleared at any time during the mene, but its state must be restored at its end [i.e. at the end of the mene].

it means that, if necessary, players are permitted to form a throwing circle by excavating loose surface material to create a circular depression. If they do, the excavated circle must be filled in again at the end of the mene.


Now that the use of plastic circles has become universal in championship competitions, it might seem that the mystery clause is obsolete. But it is not. Even with the use of plastic circles, players may still want to clear the circle.

The 2013 final of the Masters de Petanque, for example, was played on a very rough terrain, very rocky. In the YouTube video during the first mene, at 3:17 you can see a Madagascar player clearing the circle in order to get a sound footing, and at 8:46-8:49 you can (not so clearly) see Philippe Suchaud, who threw the last boule of the mene, smoothing things out after he has picked up the circle.clearing_the_circle_02