French umpires guide (sort of)

There is no proper FIPJP umpire’s guide, in the sense of an official document containing case law for the FIPJP rules of petanque— an official list of precedents and rulings in cases where the written rules are unclear or unusable for some reason. There is however a web site that occasionally contains useful bits of that kind of information. I’m talking about the FFPJP (French national) Guide de l’Arbitrage (umpiring guide).

To find it, first go to the FFPJP “portal” page. In the menu at the top of the page, click on the “INFOS ARBITRAGE” heading, and then click on “Guide de l’Arbitrage”.

This will take you to the Guide de l’Arbitrage page. At the bottom of that page is a long list of what are basically memoranda by the French national umpires on various subjects. Most of these memoranda aren’t relevant to someone who is not a French player or a French umpire, but a few contain official decisions about how the rules are to be interpreted. In the picture below, for example, I’ve highlighted Annexe 24-1, which is a memo on the new FIPJP ruling about how to handle a boule thrown out-of-turn (la boule jouée par erreur).

The rightmost column is entitled à teléchargér (to download). To download a document, click on the link in that column. You will be able to download the selected document. It will be in PDF format and (of course) in French. If you don’t read French, I recommend using the DeepL automatic translator.


A new ruling on boules played out-of-turn

A boule played out-of-turn is a boule that was played when a team mistakenly believed that they did not have the point, and that it was their turn to play.

For a long time, there has been serious debate about what should be done when this happens. Some have argued that a boule played out-of-turn was played “contrary to the the rules” and that Article 24 therefore gave the opposing team the option to declare it to be dead. Others have argued that a boule played out-of-turn was NOT an infringement of the rules but simply a mistake; boules played out-of-turn should stay where they are and play should continue.

This debate has now been settled by a ruling by the FIPJP. It is now official— a boule played out-of-turn is simply a mistake; it should be left in place and play should continue.

I don’t know if this ruling can be found on the FIPJP web site, but it was posted on the FFPJP (French) Guide de l’Arbitrage on March 6, 2023. You can read our English translation HERE.

The … ball played by mistake will be valid until the end of the mène.

This ruling made its way to the “Ask the Umpire” Facebook forum on May 4, 2023. In two separate posts (HERE and HERE) Tony Kidd, Trudy Bishop, Allen Cassady, and Andries Wijand all asked roughly the same question:

If Team B gains the point, but does not measure and (thinking that they have not gained the point) plays a second boule, what is the penalty?

Mike Pegg’s answers (which I have combined and compressed for the sake of readability) were—

The penalty is that Team B has wasted one of its boules. No boules are removed, and play continues. Team B of course should have checked [to verify that they were not holding], but so should team A to be sure they are still holding. If neither team checks to see who is holding, they are both in the wrong. Team B’s second boule remains valid, and they are at a disadvantage having played a boule they didn’t need to play.

It is nice to have this old thorn in the side finally pulled.

Leisure boules vs competition boules – when did the distinction begin?

When did people first start distinguishing between leisure boules and competition boules?

It seems to me that it must have begun when the requirements for competition boules were first codified. As the requirement for boules were gradually written down and refined, boule manufacturers must have began to distinguish between their models of boules that met those requirements (“competition” boules) and their models of boules that didn’t meet all of those requirements but were functionally similar and less expensive (“leisure” boules). Assuming that this is what happened, our question turns into a slightly different question— When did the idea of certified “competition” boules first emerge?

Based on our historical archive of the versions of the rules of the game of petanque, the answer appears to be that happened between 1962 and 1974.

  • In 1962 the FIPJP (international) rules first required boules to be certified (agréées) by the the FIPJP.
  • In 1964 the FFPJP (French national) rules first required boules to be “agréées par Sa Fédération”.
  • In 1970 the French national rules first required boules to be stamped with the boule’s weight.
  • In 1974, the French national rules first required boules to be stamped with the manufacturer’s mark.

In 1984, the French national rules were adopted as the FIPJP international rules, and most national federations adopted the FIPJP rules, unchanged, as their national rules. That’s how we got the rules that we have today.

Interestingly, the requirement that competition boules be stamped with the IDs of the boule’s model and set aren’t in the rules of the game. They are in the FIPJP document called Requirements for the Certification of Competition Petanque Boules. Unfortunately, I have no way to trace the history history of that document.

If I had to pick a specific year for when the distinction between leisure boules and competition boules first completely emerged, I’d pick 1974. That was the year when the French national rules first required all of the three things that the international rules now require— (1) that boules be certified, (2) that boules be stamped with the boule’s weight, and (3) that boules be stamped with the manufacturer’s mark.

Frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque

When you’re looking for an answer to a question—
— FIRST find out if the answer is already available on the web.

For frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque—
— See our page of FAQs.
— See our posts tagged as FAQs.

For “umpire questions”—
— Search our posts for Article 35.
— Search our posts for collective (penalty/ yellow card/ orange card).

Search our pages and posts for any term.


If you still can’t find an answer to your question, you can—
— post your question on Facebook Petanque Q&A forum
— post your question on Facebook “Ask the Umpire” forum


Challenging the jack

After reading a recent question on “Ask the Umpire” I’ve been thinking about the notion of challenging the jack. I’ve come to the conclusion that the notion of challenging the jack is completely bogus and we should stop using it.

The rule about challenging the jack is brief and cryptic. Article 7 lists the requirements for a thrown jack to be valid, but it doesn’t describe any procedures for determining whether or not the jack meets those requirements. In the next article, Article 8, we find this

If after the throwing of the jack, a first boule is played, the opponent still has the right to challenge (a encore le droit de contester) the validity of its position…. [But] If the opponent has also played a boule…. no objection is admissible.

If you read the rules carefully, you will notice that the rules never explicitly say that Team A, before it plays its first boule, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity. Article 8, however, assumes that Team A can do that, and Article 8’s concern is to make it clear that Team B may do the same thing— measure the jack to verify its validity before playing its first boule. If we combine what Article 8 says with what it assumes, the rule that we get is this.

Each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack—that is, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity.

The FIPJP rule as it currently stands is so obfuscated by bad writing and poor vocabulary choices (“challenge the jack”, “objection”) that it confuses both players and umpires. Questions are asked. After Team A has thrown the jack, while one of its players is standing in the circle and ready to throw the first boule, can Team B challenge the jack? If not, why not? If so, what is the correct procedure for doing it? If Team B challenges the jack, can Team A simply ignore the challenge?

All of these questions surfaced again recently, when Allen Cassady posted a question on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group. Here is a lightly-edited version of that post.

Albert, a player on Team A, throws the jack and then waits in the circle while a teammate marks the jack. During this pause, Bob, a player on Team B, says “the jack is too long.” (Bob did not measure or pace off the throw, not wanting to violate the Article 17 rule that “the opponents must not walk, gesticulate, or do anything that could disturb the player about to play.” He simply thought the jack was obviously too long and said so.)

Question #1. May Albert ignore Bob’s comment and proceed to throw his boule? Or, knowing that there is a disagreement as to the validity of the jack, must he stop and let the two teams measure the jack?

Question #2. Should the umpire warn/penalize Bob for violating the first sentence of Article 17, which requires players and spectators to observe total silence before a player plays his boule?

With respect to question #1, international umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was—

It would be in the best interest for Team A to check the validity of the jack before they throw their first boule, especially as Team B are already challenging its position. But your question is— Could Team A go ahead and play their first boule? The answer is YES.

Note that Mike describes Bob’s action as “challenging [the jack’s] position”, but then he says that Albert may ignore Bob’s “challenge”! But… surely if the idea of a right to bring a challenge is a meaningful one, a lawful challenge cannot simply be ignored. That’s why I suspect that Mike regards Bob’s comment simply as a casual remark, and not as a formal challenge. And I suspect that Mike’s answer accurately reflects the meaning and intent of Article 8. And I suspect that Article 8 contains nothing at all like a concept of formally challenging the jack.

If you accept the idea that Article 8 is trying to say that each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack, then the concept of “challenging the jack” simply drops out of the rules. And as it disappears it takes along with it all of the questions that it spawned. It becomes clear, for example, that Mike was right. Albert can ignore Bob’s comment, because there is no such thing in the FIPJP rules as formally challenging the jack. Bob’s casual remark was just that: a casual remark.

With respect to question #2 (Should the umpire warn/penalize Bob for violating the Article 17 rule requiring players and spectators to observe total silence before a player plays his boule?), note that the umpire’s job is to apply the rules appropriately, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each particular situation. In one set of circumstances, an umpire might think it appropriate to give Bob a yellow card. In another set of circumstances, he might not. In this particular case, Mike has no problem with Bob voicing his thoughts; Mike even thinks it was helpful to Team A. A yellow card is not appropriate in this case.

The bottom line is that Article 8 is badly written and misleading. The concept of challenging the jack is not a useful way of understanding Article 8, and we should stop using it. The rule (or if you prefer, the rule interpretation) that we should use is this.

Each team, before playing its first boule, may measure the jack— that is, may make measurements to verify the jack’s validity.

Four-boule singles

When I watch petanque singles matches on Youtube, or play singles myself, I always find myself feeling vaguely dissatisfied. It feels like each mene (end, round) is over before it has properly begun. Or— each mene is being cut off prematurely, before reaching proper completion.

The problem, I think, is that the FIPJP rules specify that, in singles games, each player plays with only three boules. And what would solve the problem, I think, is for each player to play with four boules— 4-boule singles.

The notion of 4-boule singles is a natural idea, and it isn’t a new none. At the FIPJP world championships in Spa, Belgium in 1959, singles games were played with four boules.

Most players find the notion of 4-boule singles an appealing one. In 2016 BOULISTENAUTE.COM conducted an informal survey of world-class players. You can find it on Youtube, in a video called “Pétanque le TaT à 3 ou 4 boules? Interviews”. By a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1, top-ranking players said that they would prefer to play singles with 4 boules.

And of course the idea has a pleasing mathematical regularity.

3-player teams ==> 2 boules each
2-player teams ==> 3 boules each
1-player teams ==> 4 boules each

The bottom line is that in my opinion the FIPJP rules should be changed to specify that singles games are to be played with four boules, or at least to specify that singles games may be played with three or four boules.

Until that happens, nothing is stopping us from playing 4-boule singles in informal/social play. The rules of Petanque Libre, which are designed specifically for use in such games, allow players to play singles with whatever number of boules they wish, and actually specifies that singles will be played with 4 boules.

FIPJP rules specify that in singles games players play with 3 boules. PL rules specify 4 boules. This is a deliberately provocative specification, designed to encourage players to make a conscious decision about how many boules to use when playing singles.

As for practical considerations… petanque boules are normally sold in sets of three, but I don’t think that this is a serious impediment to the practice of 4-boule singles— we can simply play with boules from two different sets. Most serious players own at least two sets of boules, and, for more casual players, sets of leisure boules are inexpensive. And FIPJP rules do not require that all of a player’s boules to be from the same 3-boule set.

Time-limited games

[revised 2022-01-02]
All big competitions have the same problem. Even with a single-elimination format, many rounds of games must be played in order to reduce the field of competitors to the eight teams that will play in the quarter-finals. All of the games in a round must have finished before match-ups between the survivors can be arranged and the next round can begin. This means that if even one game in a round goes on for too long, the entire competition is brought to a halt, waiting for that game to finish. [But see the comment by Jac Verheul.]

The problem for big competitions, then, is to devise a way to play short-form games— games that can be played in a limited and predictable amount of time.

Short-form games

There are three ways that you can play a short-form game.

  • You can play to a winning score of less than 13.
  • You can limit the time allowed for the game.
  • You can limit the number of menes (ends) played.

In the last two cases, if the allotted amount of time or number of menes has completed and the score is tied, then an additional tie-breaker mene must be played to decide the winner.

Note that the idea of a tie-breaker mene isn’t as simple as it seems. Playing one additional mene can not guarantee that that the tie will be broken. In fact, it cannot guarantee that the game will ever finish. If the jack is shot out-of-bounds while both teams still have unplayed boules, the mene is scoreless— the tie remains unbroken and another mene must be played. In theory, it is possible for the two teams to play an infinite series of scoreless menes without breaking the tie.

In order to guarantee that a game will finish in a finite amount of time, it is necessary to invent the idea of (what I will call) a Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene. This is a special kind of mene in which the jack is not allowed to go dead. If the jack is hit out-of-bounds, it is put back on the terrain and the game continues. (If it was marked, it is put back on the mark. Otherwise, it is put on the terrain near the spot where it crossed the dead-ball line.)

The competition organizer specifies the rules for short-form games

Short-form games are considered to be part of the way a competition is organized, so specifying the rules for short-form games is the responsibility of the competition organizer.

The CEP (Confédération Européenne de Pétanque) is the organizer of the Eurocup, and other competition organizers look to the Eurocup as a model for organizing their own competitions. The CEP’s choice for a short-form game is a time-limited format.

At first, when playing time-limited games, when the time-limit was announced (by a whistle, say), any mene in progress was played to its finish. At that point, if one of the teams was in the lead, then that team was the winner. If the score was tied, one additional tie-breaker mene was played. But there was a problem. As a game approached its time-limit, the team in the lead would often deliberately play slowly, “running out the clock” and limiting their opponents’ opportunities to score more points. The CEP apparently considered this tactic to be contrary to the spirit of the game. Mike Pegg reports

When timed games were first introduced, one more end was played after the whistle was blown. Teams would deliberately play slowly, taking a full minute etc., so that the opponent had no chance of winning or drawing with them. To prevent this sort of tactic, it was decided to allow for two extra ends.

In this new model, games are played to the normal winning score of 13. Any game that hasn’t finished when the time limit is reached, then switches to a limited-number of menes model. Basically, a “time-limited” game is a game in which reaching the time limit triggers a switch into a different mode of play.

  1. Games are played as they normally are. When one team achieves the winning score of 13, the game is declared to be finished and the team that achieved the winning score is declared the winner.
  2. For any game that is still in progress when the time-limit is reached, the teams finish playing the mene that is currently in progress. At that point, if neither team has achieved a winning score, the game switches to a limited-number of menes model in which the allowed number of menes is limited to two.

    Note that “the game is still in progress” means that neither team has reached the winning score (13 points) so the game has not yet finished.

    Note that any game that is still in progress, whether or not the score is tied, will go on to play two extra ends. The two extra ends, therefore, are not tie-breaker ends. They are meant to give the game a few more ends (rather than a little more time) in which to finish.
  3. If, after either of these two extra menes, one team achieves the winning score, the game is declared to be finished and the team that achieved the winning score is declared the winner.
  4. For any game that is still in progress after the two extra ends, if one team has a score that is higher than the other team’s score, the game is declared to be finished and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.
  5. For any game that is still in progress after the two extra ends, if the score is tied, the game plays a third, Guaranteed Tie-Breaker mene. After that mene, the game is declared to be finished and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.

Here’s how the CEP rules for timed, Swiss system games describe it.

[The time limit is 75 minutes for a triples game, 60 minutes for a doubles game, and 45 minutes for a singles game.]

[A]t the end of the time limit the current end should be completed plus two more ends. In the case of equal scores after the two additional ends, the teams will play one more end. During this extra end, the jack cannot become dead (out of play). If the jack goes out of the defined playing area it will be put back in its original position, or if that is not marked then in the nearest valid place to where it went out of play.

Here’s how the FIPJP competition rules for the world championships describe it, in Article 19 of Règlement des Championnats du Monde.

All games in the World Championships are played to 13 points, with the exception of games to which a time limit is applied. [For world championship games, the time limit is 75 minutes for a men’s triples game, 60 minutes for any other kind of triples game, 60 minutes for a doubles game, and 45 minutes for a singles game.] If neither team has reached 13 points before the end of the fixed time, it will be contested for up to two additional ends. In the event of a tie at the end of the extra ends there will be a final end in which the jack, if it can be moved, will never be dead.

A problem with the idea of a guaranteed tie-breaker

There is a problem with these rules for time-limited games. The “guaranteed” tie-breaker does not guarantee that the tie will be broken after the third mene. The fact that the jack cannot go dead does not mean that one team must score. There can be a null point at the end of the third mene (an equidistant boules situation, or an empty terrain situation), which means that neither team scores, and the two scores remain tied.

It may be argued that something that is so unlikely to happen is nothing to worry about. But as an ex-computer programmer, I know that if there is a loophole in a set of rules so that a problem CAN happen, it WILL happen. The only question is about how long it will be before it happens. This is true of computer programs, and it is true of the rules for time-limited games.

Some interesting, unintended consequences

In time-limited games, all boundary lines are dead-ball lines. Before 2020, that meant that a thrown jack had to be at least a meter (sometimes: at least half a meter) from a side dead-ball line. But in 2020 the rules changed. Now a jack can be thrown right next to a side dead-ball line. And that has introduced an interesting new tactic into time-limited games.

Now, at the start of an extra mene, it is common for a team with a higher score to throw the jack very close to the side string. And then, rather than pointing with their first boule, they shoot the jack out-of-bounds. This finishes the extra mene without changing the score and without affecting the team’s lead. With this tactic, a team that has a good shooter and is leading at the beginning of the first or second extra mene has virtually won the game.

What does “inside the circle” mean?

A regular question on petanque forums is: What does “inside the circle” mean? But you never see the question put that way. Instead, you see questions about what a player is or is not permitted to do while throwing.

  1. Can the toe of a player’s shoe be above the front of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle?
  2. Can the heel of a squat pointer’s shoe be above the back of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle?
  3. Can a squat pointer balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand?
  4. Can a squat pointer touch the ground inside the circle with a knee?

Article 6 (title: “Start of play and rules regarding the circle”) says—

The players’ feet must be entirely on the inside of the circle and not encroach on its perimeter …. No part of the body may touch the ground outside the circle.

This rule, at least with respect to our four questions, seems to me to be quite clear. Imagine that the inside edge of the circle projects an invisible wall upward into the sky, so that the player is in effect standing or squatting inside an invisible cylinder. Article 6 says, in effect, that (a) no part of the player’s feet may protrude out through that cylinder, and (b) no part of the player’s body may touch the ground outside that cylinder. (Note that this does allow a player’s arms, knees, and torso to extend outside of the cylinder during his backswing and throw. They will be outside of the cylinder, yes, but they will not be touching the ground outside of the cylinder.)

If you can visualize such a cylinder, it is easy to answer our four questions.

  1. Can the toe of a player’s shoe be above the front of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle? No. His toe (which is part of his foot) would be outside the cylinder.
  2. Can the heel of a squat pointer’s shoe be above the back of the circle, as long as it doesn’t actually touch the circle? No. His heel (which is part of his foot) would be outside the cylinder.
  3. Can a squat pointer balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand? Yes. His non-throwing hand would not be touching the ground outside the cylinder.
  4. Can a squat pointer touch the ground inside the circle with a knee? Yes … if he can do so while both feet are inside the cylinder and touching the ground!

These answers seem clear and easy. And everybody agrees on the first answer.
Surprisingly, there is disagreement about the other three.

New Zealand Petanque disagrees with answer #2. For many years the NZP rules interpretation guidelines have said

When crouching in the circle to play a boule/jack, the players heel can encroach over the inside edge of the circle, provided it does not touch the circle. If the player stands up and onto the circle before the boule/jack has touched the ground, they have stood on the perimeter of the circle, and not had both feet entirely inside the circle as required. A warning (yellow card) will be given.

International umpire Mike Pegg disagrees with answers #3 and #4. Mike’s answer, in both cases, is NO. Mike maintains that the only parts of the player’s body that may touch the ground are his/her feet.

This leaves umpires and players in a quandary — Should we follow what the written rules say? Or what Mike Pegg says? Or what the New Zealand umpires committee says? Or what seems sensible to us?

I vote for following the written rules. I admit that there are some situations where applying the rules as written can be difficult or unfair. But these situations aren’t among them. With respect to these four questions, the answers provided by the rules are clear and fair.

With respect to question #2, I can understand NZP’s position. As a practical matter, it can be difficult for an umpire to judge whether a squat pointer’s raised heel has encroached on the circle. So except for the most egregious cases an umpire will not, and should not, penalize a player.

With respect to questions #3 and #4, I think that we have to be careful not to read into the rules things that aren’t actually there. We know that players have a tendency to invent mythical rules. You can’t fill a hole with your hand. You can’t wear gloves while throwing a boule. I think that Mike’s position is a product of that tendency. A squat pointer can’t balance himself by touching the ground inside the circle with his non-throwing hand, seems to me to be just another mythical rule. It has absolutely no basis in the written rules.

Mike’s position also seems to me somewhat contrary to the spirit of the game, which allows handicapped players quite a bit of latitude when it comes to standing inside the circle. A squat-pointing player is going to put a hand on the ground only if he absolutely must do so in order to maintain his balance. No completely able-bodied player is going to do it. It seems to me, therefore, that it is in keeping with the spirit of the game, as well as the letter of the law, to permit a squat-pointer to balance himself with a hand on the ground inside the circle.

 updated 2021-11-21

Is the Geologic red jack legal?

Is the Geologic “red jack” legal?

The short answer

The mid-length answer
Just as “leisure” boules are designed for social play (but aren’t permitted in competition play), so the red jack is designed for social play (but isn’t permitted in competition play).

The long answer
Let’s start with some information about the jack itself.

  • Decathlon was selling the red jack internationally as early as 2019, but it only appeared on the American Decathlon web store in the spring of 2021.
  • The distinctive feature of the red jack is that it is paramagnetic, that is, you can pick it up with a magnetic boule lifter.
  • Structurally, it is different from Obut’s “black jack”, which is made of hard epoxy resin mixed with iron filings. The Geologic red jack is made out of a different material (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and it has a solid iron core which gives it 50% of its total weight.
  • The red jack is 29.5mm in diameter and weighs 17g.
  • The Decathlon webpage for the red jack clearly states— Use restriction: This jack cannot be used in official competitions.

In the case of jacks, there is a difference between being “approved” and being “legal”.

  • There is an FIPJP document called Fabricants de Boules: Labels des Boules et Buts agréés en compétition. This document lists the models of boules and synthetic jacks that are “approved” for competition play. Being a competition boule means, basically, that the boule is one of the approved models listed in this document. Being a competition jack means that a synthetic jack is one of the approved models listed in this document.
  • The FIPJP international rules for the sport of petanque specifies size, weight, and composition requirements for jacks. A jack that meets those requirements is “legal” for use in an FIPJP-sanctioned competition. A jack that fails to meet those requirements may not be used in an FIPJP-sanctioned competition.

Both Obut’s black jack and Geologic’s red jack may be used in social play, but neither may be used in competition play. Obut’s black jack is not legal because it weighs more than the maximum weight allowed by the rules of the sport. The Geologic red jack isn’t on the list of officially approved competition synthetic jacks.

A few customers have complained (in customer reviews) that their magnetic boule lifters won’t pick up the red jack. A customer service rep has replied that “There is indeed a competitor’s boule lifter that doesn’t work very well with these jacks. We will fix that in a second version.” If this is something you experience, you can complain to Decathlon and get a refund. But my advice would be to get a better boule lifter or make your own.

Petanque rules quiz 001

Two players are playing singles.  In the middle of the second mène (end, round), the score is 1-0. This happens.
A) Is the jack dead or alive?
B) Assuming the jack is dead, which player plays the next boule? Why?
C) Assuming the jack is alive, which player plays the next boule? Why?

This one is just for fun. There are 5 questions; two points per question. Ten points wins you bragging rights. Entries will be judged on correctness, completeness, and clarity. Submit your answers in a comment. This post will be edited to provide the correct answers and name the winners.

Quiz closes midnight, Wednesday April 28, 2021. The quiz is now closed. But if you would like to challenge yourself, you’re still free to take it. The answers are available HERE.