Last updated: 2020-10-02
Frequently Asked Questions about the rules of petanque
- Not all answers to the questions in the Table of Contents appear on this page. Some entries in the Table of Contents link to other pages.
- For detailed discussions of individual rules, see Notes on the Rules of Petanque.
- For general questions about petanque (“Is petanque the same as bocce?”) visit the All About Petanque FAQs page.
- Questions, answers, and comments on this page.
Table of Contents
- I want to build my own petanque terain. What are the dimensions of a court?
- What is an obstacle?
- What is a mène (an end)?
- When does a mene (end, round) start and finish?
- In time-limited games, when a tie occurs why play TWO additional rounds?
- If the first boule thrown goes out-of-bounds, which team throws next?
- Is there any rule about the order in which members of the same team play?
- What are the rules for the jack’s weight, size, and so on?
- Is a boule dead if it hits something overhead? The ceiling? A tree branch?
- Is it OK to leave unplayed boules on the ground?
- What is a “boule thrown contrary to rules”?
- I don’t understand the rule about “stepping back” and moving the circle.
- There is a shooting competition. Is there also a pointing competition?
- What are the rules for the colored penalty cards?
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN…
- … the first boule pushes the jack?
- … the jack is shot out-of-bounds and goes dead?
- … a boule goes out-of-bounds, then bounces back in-bounds?
- ….the two teams’ best boules are the same distance from the jack?
- … ALL boules are shot out-of-bounds?
- … a boule is played out of turn?
- … one team forgets that it has an unplayed boule?
- … a player moves a boule while measuring?
- … a player picks up the circle before all boules have been thrown?
- Can a team challenge the jack after it has just thrown the first boule?
- Can you groom the terrain between ends?
- Can you paint or color your boules?
- Can you engrave your initials on your boules?
- Can you wear open-toe shoes or sandals while playing?
- Can a teammate indicate the donnee by standing near it?
- Can you throw underarm (roll a boule, palm up)?
- Can you wear gloves while playing?
- Can you fill a hole with your hand?
- Can you play with boules that aren’t all from the same set?
- Is it true? You can’t fix a hole before throwing the first boule in a game.
- Is it true? You can’t fix a hole if you’re going to shoot.
- Is it true? A team loses the points it won in a mene if the points aren’t recorded on the scoreboard before the start of the next mene
- Is it true? You can’t throw a jack to within 2 meters of another jack.
- Is it true? A player can’t throw more than two boules in a row.
If the first boule thrown goes out-of-bounds, which team throws next? ▲
If Team A throws the first boule and it goes out-of-bounds, then Team B throws next. If Team B’s first boule goes out of bounds, then Team A throws next… and so on: the teams play alternately until one of them throws a boule that stays in-bounds. This is a special case of alternating play in an undecided-point situation.
Can a team challenge the jack after it has just thrown the first boule? ▲
After the jack and the first boule have been played, the opponents still have the right to question (contest) the validity of the jack’s location. Does the team that threw the jack and the first boule still have the right to question the validity of the jack’s location?
No. Each team has the right to question the validity of the position of the thrown jack until it (the team) throws its first boule. By the act of throwing its first boule, a team accepts the position of the jack and gives up the right to question that position. For more information, see our post on Challenging the jack and the “Pushed Jack Question”.
Is there any rule about the order in which members of the same team play? ▲
No. When you’re playing doubles or triples, members of the same team can play in any order that they wish. Often the team member that plays is determined by circumstance. If the team needs to point, then the team’s best pointer will throw. If the team needs to shoot, then the team’s best shooter will throw. (See also our discussion of the mythical rule A player can’t throw more than two boules in a row.)
Can a teammate indicate the donnee by standing near it? ▲
YES — that’s OK. Article 15 says that A player is not allowed to help himself by using any object, nor to draw a line on the ground to guide his boule or to mark his intended landing spot. Players sometimes wonder if this means that it is forbidden for a teammate to indicate the desired donnée by pointing with a toe. The answer is NO. Article 15 forbids making physical changes to the terrain or leaving objects on the terrain. But as long as no change is made to the terrain, it is perfectly OK for a teammate simply to stand and point with a toe. There is no danger of the teammate interfering with the thrown boule— if the boule gets too close, the teammate can simply step away.
In time-limited games, when a tie occurs why play TWO additional rounds? Why not ONE extra round? ▲
This is in Article 19 of Règlement des Championnats du Monde de Pétanque, the rules for FIPJP world championship matches.
All games in the World Championships are played to 13 points, with the exception of games to which a time limit is applied: an hour and a quarter for the Men’s World Championship, one hour for others. Games may not end with a tied score (un match nul); a tied game will be played two additional menes if no team reaches 13 points.
When time-limited games were first introduced, when the whistle sounded 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 extra mene was played.
With this rule in place, as the time-limit drew near teams in the lead would deliberately play slowly, “running out the clock” and limiting their opponents’ opportunities to score more points. The FIPJP apparently considered this tactic to be contrary to the spirit of the game. As a result, the rules were changed to allow TWO ends after the whistle. (Note that after TWO extra menes a game might still be tied, requiring a THIRD extra mene to break the tie.)
This rule has been effect for several years, and umpires seem happy with it. Most time-limited games finish in 90 minutes or less. This is reliable enough to allow ancillary activities (meal breaks, TV broadcasts) to be scheduled with confidence.
Is a boule dead if it hits something overhead? The ceiling? A tree branch? ▲
No, it isn’t dead. Think of the out-of-bounds lines as visible indicators of the locations of invisible walls that extend upward into the sky from the strings or marks on the ground. A boule that goes through one of those walls is dead, but hitting something above the ground INSIDE those walls doesn’t kill it. Within those walls, objects above the ground are parts of the terrain just as much as a stone sitting on the ground. If a boule hits a low-hanging tree branch, a light fixture suspended over the terrain, or even the ceiling of a covered boulodrome, that is essentially the same as hitting a stone on the ground. Call call it bad luck and carry on.
No. There isn’t an FIPJP pointing competition. There are both practical and theoretical problems with a pointing competition. On the practical side— pointing is different from shooting because successful pointing is heavily dependent on the playing surface, and the very act of playing a boule changes the playing surface. Ensuring consistency of the playing surface is virtually impossible. On the theoretical side— there are questions about what should count as successful pointing, how to score the competition, and the obstacles and events in the competition. Should there be different events for rolling, demi-lob, and high lob? For left and right spin? Should we measure accuracy in hitting a donnee or accuracy in getting near the jack or both? Should a boule in front score higher than one in back? How do you score a boule that pushes the jack back, but ends up kissing it? Should promoting a boule be one of the events? Etc. Etc.
Can you wear gloves while playing? ▲
Yes, you can. Article 15 says that “A player may not help himself by using any object, nor draw a line on the ground to guide his boule or to mark his intended landing spot.” It is sometimes suggested that a glove is an object that would help a player, and that wearing gloves is therefore forbidden by Article 15.
That is a misinterpretation of Article 15. The purpose of Article 15 is to forbid making physical changes to the terrain. Specifically, it forbids players from indicating their intended landing spot (donnée) (a) by making marks on the terrain or (b) by placing “any object” (e.g. a stick or stone) on the terrain.
It is sometimes argued that gloves give a player an “unfair advantage”. But even if gloves do provide some kind of assistance (e.g. warm hands on a cold day), there is nothing unfair about it— all players are permitted to wear gloves if they wish.
Can you fix a hole your hand? ▲
Yes. The rules do not specify how you must fill a hole. Using your hand is allowed. A related question is
“What are you allowed to do, when filling a hole? Just scrape a little dirt over it with your foot? Or are you allowed to tamp it down a bit?”
As we’ve said, there are no specific rules about what you can and cannot do when filling a hole. Anything that a human being can do using only his/her body is certainly allowed. After the hole is filled, a little extra tamping and stamping with the feet will make no significant difference in the terrain. But if it makes you feel better, go ahead and do it.
Is it true? You can’t fix a hole before throwing the first boule in a game. ▲
NO, it is not true.
Before 2008, Article 10 said that a player was allowed to fill only the hole made by the boule that had been previously thrown. This wording suggested that the player who throws the first boule in a game might not be allowed to fill a hole, because no boule had been previously thrown in that game. The wording of Article 10 was modified in 2008 to insure that Article 10 would not be interpreted in that way. The current wording of Article 10 is
the player who is about to play, or one of his partners, may fill in a hole that was made by a boule played earlier.
The bottom line is that a player, before throwing, may fill one hole in the terrain that was created by the impact of a boule, regardless of whether that boule was thrown in the same game or in an earlier game.
Is it true? You can’t fix a hole if you’re going to shoot. ▲
No, it is not true. YES, he is allowed to fix a hole even if the subsequently shoots rather than points.
Players have been known to ask— My opponent just fixed a hole on the terrain, and then went back to the circle and shot! Is he allowed to do that! This indignant question arises from the idea that the purpose of fixing a hole is to keep the hole from interfering with a rolling boule, so a player shouldn’t be allowed to fix a hole if he intends to shoot au fer. But a rule that a player can’t fill a hole if he intends to shoot would be extremely silly. There is no way precisely to distinguish shooting from pointing. There is no way to read a player’s mind and determine his intentions. And a player has the right to fill a hole for his own benefit (if he shoots badly) or for the benefit of some future pointer. That’s why a player’s plans for how he’s going to throw his boule have absolutely no bearing on his right to fill a hole in the terrain.
In 2016, wording was added to the FIPJP rules to emphasize that sweeping (balayage) in front of a boule that you are planning to shoot is illegal. This was NOT a rule that a player can’t fill a hole and then attempt to shoot. It was simply a reminder to umpires that they should enforce the rules that allow a player to fill a hole, but do not allow a player to “sweep” (smooth out) a large area of the terrain.
Is it true? You are not allowed to throw underarm (palm up). ▲
No. It is not true. The rules say nothing about how a boule must be thrown, so it is legal to throw a boule any way you want. Petanque is typically played on a rough and uneven surface, so throwing a boule (rather than rolling it) is usually the best way to put a petanque boule in motion. (See our page on How to throw a boule.) On the other hand, a palm-up rolling throw is good if you are pointing long distances over smooth ground, or if you have shoulder or arm issues. And it is perfectly legal.
Is it true? All of a player’s boules must be from a matching set. ▲
No. It is not true. It is completely legal to play with “odd boules” – boules that don’t all come from the same matched set. The only requirement is that each individual boule must be valid. That is, each individual boule must be from an FIPJP-certified manufacturer, the required manufacturer’s markings must still be legible, etc.
Is it true? You can groom the terrain between ends. ▲
NO. The relevant is in Article 10 —
It is strictly forbidden for players to press down, displace or crush any obstacle whatsoever that is located on the game terrain.
This rule is generally interpreted as a broad prohibition on altering the terrain in any way during a game, including raking or “grooming” the terrain. The prohibition is in effect from the time that the game officially begins with the first throw of the jack.
HOWEVER… Local rules may allow raking the terrain during a game. There is, for example, a form of petanque in which the players always throw from the end of the terrain, so that the center of the terrain gets used quite heavily. In this form of petanque the center of the terrain is often raked between menes.
Can you paint or color your boules? ▲
The short answer is YES.
People often think about putting paint in the grooves of their boules to make it easier to tell their boules from other boules. They wonder— Will painting my boules violate Article 2’s prohibition on tampering with boules?
The answer is NO. Putting paint in the grooves of a boule does NOT violate Article 2. Article 2’s prohibition on tampering is meant to prohibit changing a boule’s playing characteristics by re-heating (re-tempering) a boule to change its hardness, and “stuffing” a boule— putting something inside the boule to change its behavior when it hits the ground. Putting paint, fingernail polish, or permanent marker in the markings and grooves of a boule is NOT considered to be tampering. The paint is below the surface of the boule, so it will not come into contact with the ground or other boules and will not affect the playing characteristics of the boule. Conversely, an umpire may reject a boule that is entirely covered in paint, out of concern that the paint may change the playing characteristics of the boule.
Note that there is one exception to this general rule. The Dutch national petanque federation (NJBB) considers all paint (even paint in grooves) to violate Article 2. Why? “In the past, paint was used to hide holes that had been drilled in boules, in order to tamper with the boules.” (See THIS). So if you REALLY need to know if your painted boules will be acceptable in a particular competition, you need to check with the competition organizers.
Some competition organizers try to arrange for the teams to play with boules of different colors. (The goal is to make it easier for spectators to follow games.) In the Netherlands, before some games, the teams turn over their (uncolored) boules to the umpires, and the umpires color the boules. But that is different from a player coloring his own boules.
Can you engrave your initials on your boules? ▲
After they’ve had their boules for a while, players sometimes think about engraving their name or initials on their boules. Although some players think about taking their boules to a jeweler who can engrave their initials, most think about doing the job themselves by scratching their initials into the boules. And they wonder if that is legal. Specifically they wonder if doing so will violate Article 2’s prohibition on tampering with boules.
The answer is NO, scratching or engraving your initials on your boules will NOT violate Article 2. Article 2’s prohibition on tampering is meant to prohibit re-heating a boule to change its hardness, and also to prohibit “stuffing” a boule— putting something inside the boule to change its playing characteristics. So scratching or engraving your initials onto your boules will NOT violate Article 2.
Note however that “touching up” the information that was originally engraved on the boule by the manufacturer is NOT allowed. Article 2 requires that the manufacturer’s trademark and the boule’s weight (both of which are required to be stamped into the boule by the manufacturer) must be legible. That means that the manufacturer’s original markings must be legible. If a boule is so badly worn that that information is no longer legible, an umpire will not permit it to be used in an FIPJP-sanctioned competition. “Touching up” that information really would be considered tampering with the boule.
Some players worry that engraving their boules will change the weight of the boules and so make them illegal. But the amount of weight lost, if any, in the operation is negligible. It certainly will NOT change the boules’ weight enough to make them illegal. This prompts players to ask— How much weight can a boule lose (after years of play) before it becomes illegal? The answer, which can be found in the requirements for the certification of boules, is 15 grams.
Is it true? A team loses the points it won in a mene if the points aren’t recorded on the scoreboard before the start of the next mene. ▲
This is not a recognized rule of petanque… you won’t find it in the FIPJP rules. However, there are petanque leagues in Spain that have adopted a LOCAL rule of “Put your score on the scoreboard or lose it”, in order to avoid disagreements over the score later in the game. Players returning to the UK after vacationing and playing in Spain sometimes come back with the mistaken impression that this is one of the standard rules of petanque.
The FIPJP rules say nothing about how the score is recorded. In fact, there is no requirement that the score must be physically recorded in any way at all. It is perfectly legal for players to keep the score in their heads. The bottom line is that (except, perhaps, in local rules) The score is the score, whether or not it has been recorded on the scoreboard. As a practical matter, it is a good idea to record the score in some way. If the score is being recorded on a scoreboard, generally speaking the winning team is the party that updates the scoreboard. BOTH teams, however, should consider it their responsibility to see that the scoreboard is updated correctly after the agreement of points.
Is it true? You can’t throw a jack to within 2 meters of a jack in a neighboring game. ▲
The current rule is that you can’t throw a jack to within 1.5 meters of a jack or circle in a neighboring game. Before the 2020 rules revision, “you can’t throw a jack to within 2 meters of a jack in a neighboring game” was a widely circulated mythical rule. The FIPJP rules contained several one-meter and two-meter rules, but there was no rule about a minimum distance between a thrown jack and the jack or circle in a neighboring game. That flaw in the rules was fixed in 2020.
Is it true? A player can’t throw more than two boules in a row. ▲
No, it is not true. But some clubs have adopted a local rule for doubles that says that the same player cannot play more than two boules in a row before letting his/her teammate throw. I don’t know why they have adopted this rule, but it is definitely a LOCAL rule and not one of the international rules of petanque.