Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?

Players sometimes ask— Is a wooden sideboard an obstacle? What they mean is— If the circle is close to a sideboard, should we move it? The question comes up because there is a concern that a squat pointer or a player in a wheelchair might hit a hand on the sideboard when throwing.

On “Ask the Umpire” Mike Pegg has given different anwers to this question at different times. First he ruled that a sideboard is not an obstacle— a concerned squat pointer must stand, not squat, when pointing. Later he stated that a sideboard higher than 20cm is an obstacle because “at this height or higher it may impede a player.” Still later he stated that a board of 25cm is an obstacle.

The problem here is that the FIPJP rules never define the word “obstacle”, so it’s an open question whether any particular thing (such as a sideboard) is a throwing obstacle. So we need to begin by defining “throwing obstacle”. I propose this— something that might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or something that might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form.

Once we’ve defined our terms, the answer to the question depends on the particular circumstances. In normal circumstances a wooden sideboard is not considered an obstacle. But in a situation where it might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form, then it should be considered an obstacle and the circle should be moved away from it. So the answer to the question is:

Normally a wooden sideboard is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but in some cases it is.

Moving the circle away from a throwing obstacle is something that should be done before the jack is thrown. That means that if one of your team’s players is a squat pointer or in a wheelchair, and you’re concerned about the wooden surround, don’t hesitate— SPEAK UP! Don’t wait until after the jack has been thrown to voice your concerns, because by then it is too late.

See also our post on What is an obstacle?

Which team throws next?

[revised: 2020-12-16]
Here is a quick review.

If the point is decided, the team that does not have the point plays next. If the point is null, the teams play alternately until the point is decided, starting with the team that created the null point.

Some background concepts

  1. Assuming that both teams still have unplayed boules, there can be one of two situations on the ground.
    • One team has the point: the point is decided (attribué).
    • Neither team has the point: the point is null (un point nul).


    • If the point is decided, the team that does NOT have the point throws next.
    • If the point is null, the teams throw alternately until the point is decided, starting with the team that threw the ball that created the null point.


  2. The point is null in two situations.
    • The best boules of the two teams are the same distance from the jack (an equidistant boules situation).
    • There are no boules on the terrain (an empty terrain situation).


  3. There are two ways for a team to create an empty terrain situation.
    • The team throws the jack to start a mene. Throwing out the jack creates an empty terrain situation, so the team that threw the jack starts alternating play by throwing the first boule.
    • The team throws a boule that knocks out all of the boules on the terrain and then itself rolls out-of-bounds, leaving the terrain empty. When that happens, the team starts alternating play by throwing the next boule.

These procedures are described in Article 16 and Article 29 of the FIPJP rules (see below for the text of those articles). Unfortunately, those articles don’t describe them clearly, so players are often unsure about how to apply them in unusual situations. Let’s look at some unusual situations and see how they should handled.

(A) The opening boules keep going out-of-bounds.
What if the first boule thrown goes out-of-bounds?
What if the first boule and the second boule go out-of-bounds?

Team A creates a null point by throwing the jack. It then starts alternating play by throwing its first boule, A1. If A1 goes out-of-bounds, then Team A has failed to decide the point (the terrain is still empty), so Team B continues alternating play by throwing its first boule, B1. If B1 goes out-of-bounds, then Team B has also failed to decide the point (the terrain is still empty), so Team A continues alternating play by throwing its next boule, A2. And so on. In an extreme situation, if each of the first four boules (A1, B1, A2, B2) goes out of bounds, play looks like this.

  • Team A throws the jack (creating an empty terrain situation).
  • Team A throws boule A1 (to start alternating play).
  • Team B throws B1 (continues alternating play).
  • Team A throws A2 (continues alternating play).
  • Team B throws B2 (continues alternating play).
  • Team A throws A3.

(B) An equidistant boules situation comes back from the dead.
Team A points boule A1, Team B points boule B1, and B1 comes to rest at the same distance from the jack as A1. (left, below) Because Team B has created an equidistant boules situation, Team B starts alternating play by throwing boule B2.

  • B2 gains the point. (center)
  • Team A throws A2, which hits away B2. Now A1 and B1 are again in an equidistant boules situation. (right)

Players sometimes think of this as “bringing back” the original equidistant boules situation. This is a mistake. What has happened is that another equidistant boules situation has been created. Equidistant boules situations are like solar eclipses. They can happen over and over again, sometimes involving the same objects in the same arrangement, but each episode is a different event. The throw of B1 created an equidistant boules situation (left) that lasted until it was ended by the throw of B2 (center). The throw of A2 removed B2 and created another equidistant boules situation (right). The situation on the right is similar to, but different, from the situation on the left, just as this year’s solar eclipse is is similar to, but different, from last year’s solar eclipse. Team A has created a second equidistant boules situation, so it starts alternating play by throwing its next boule, A3.

(C) One of the equidistant boules is exactly replaced.
Suppose that Team A points boule A1. Team B points boule B1, which comes to rest at exactly the same distance from the jack as A1. Team B starts alternating play; they throw boule B2, trying to shoot A1. But the shot misses! B2 knocks away B1 away and exactly replaces it. Now, A1 and B2 are equidistant.

Players sometimes think this has created “a new null point” (“c’est un nouveau point nul“) “because it is a different boule that is now equidistant from the jack.” This is a mistake. While it is true that the boules involved have changed (and in this sense there is “a new situation”), the relevant fact is that the point was not decided. Alternating play therefore continues. Since Team B was the last to play, Team A throws next.

(D) An equidistant boules situation is converted into an empty terrain situation.
Suppose that Team A throws boule A1. Team B throws boule B1, which ends up exactly equidistant from the jack. Team B starts alternating play by throwing next. Team B wants to use boule B2 to shoot A1, but misses. B2 knocks both boules on the terrain out-of-bounds and then itself rolls out of bounds. There are no boules left on the terrain.

Players sometimes think that this creates “a new null point” because an equidistant boules situation was changed into an empty terrain situation. This is a mistake. As I said in connection with the previous situation: while it is true that the situation has changed, the relevant fact is that the point was not decided. Alternating play therefore continues. Since Team B was the last to play, Team A throws next.

The relevant articles in the FIPJP rules of petanque.

Article 16
If the first boule played goes into an out-of-bounds area, it is for the opponent to play, then alternately as long as there are no boules in the in-bounds area. If no boule is left in the in-bounds area after a shooting throw or a pointing throw, apply the provisions of Article 29 concerning a null point (point nul).

Article 29 – Boules equidistant from the jack
When the two boules closest to the jack belong to different teams and are at an equal distance from it… If both teams still have boules, the team that played the last boule plays again, then the opposing team, and so on alternately until the point belongs to one of them.

How do you say the score in petanque?

How do you say the score in petanque?

Before we look at the question of how to say or report the score in a game of petanque, let’s look at the general question of how to report the score of a game in any sport. Suppose that you are a spectator watching a game between Team A which has 3 points and Team B which has 4 points. Team A is the host (“home”) team; Team B is the visiting (“away”) team. You turn to your companion and say “Now the score is…”

  • If you are in the USA, you probably say the highest score first, e.g. “4-3” or “4-3 in favor of Team B”. In most American sports this is the customary practice during the game, and the almost universal practice after the game is over and the winner is known: the winner’s score is given first, followed by the loser’s score: “9-8, Team B”.
  • You may say the score of the home team first (“3-4”) or the score of the visiting team first (“4-3”). Giving the score of the visiting team first seems to be an American custom, originating with American baseball. The rest of the world does the reverse, typically giving the score of the home team first. That’s the difference between American football and soccer.
  • In some sports, games have rounds or “innings” in which the teams play different roles— in an “inning”, one team is “in” (e.g. batting) while the other team is “out” (e.g. fielding). During an inning in these games the traditional practice is often to report the score of the “in” team first. During a set in tennis, for example, one player “serves” and the other player “receives service”. In this context the standard practice is to say the score of the server first.

With petanque, at least in the USA, after a game has finished the standard practice seems to be to report the score of the winning team first. The question that most interests me is how we talk about the score during the game, after the agreement of points at the end of each mène.

  • (A) In the USA, perhaps the most common technique is to use the highest-score-first technique— “4-3” or “4-3, in favor of us (or you).”
  • (B) Another approach is to copy tennis’s practice of saying the score of the server (or in this case, the serving team) first. In petanque the “serving” team (the team that throws out the jack for the next mène) is the team that won the last mène. So you first say the score of the team that won the last mène. If you know that the score is 3-4, and you know that it was your team that won the last mène, you know that your team’s score is 3.
  • (C) There is another approach, also inspired by tennis. In tennis, before serving, the server calls out the score, saying his/her own score first. In petanque, after the agreement of points, the winning team verbally reports the score from its viewpoint (“3-4”), to which the opposing team responds by verbally reporting the score from its viewpoint (“4-3”). This produces a “call and response” exchange (an “affirm and confirm” exchange”?) which usefully confirms and finalizes the two teams’ agreement on the score.

I think that each of these techniques is probably used by some group, somewhere, in the USA or in France or elsewhere. What I don’t know, and would like to know, is:

  1. Is there a group that uses a different technique than the ones I’ve mentioned here?
  2. Is there one particular method that is more widely used than the others?

Throwing the jack to 6-10 meters

To start a mène (end, round) the winning team places the circle and then throws out the jack to a distance of 6 to 10 meters.

Article 7 says: “The distance that separates [the jack] from the interior edge of the throwing circle must be 6 meters minimum and 10 meters maximum for Juniors and Seniors.” In petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the rule says that the shortest distance between the inside edge of the circle and the front of the jack must be no less than 6 meters and no more than 10 meters.

The front edges of the two jacks in the picture (below) are at exactly 6 meters and 10 meters from the circle. Both jacks are valid. If the jack at 6m was a little closer to the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be less than 6m. If the jack at 10m was a little farther from the circle, it would not be valid because the distance would be more than 10m.

It is important to be clear about the fact that the wording of the rule uses the concept of distance, not of area. The distance between the circle and the jack must be between 6 and 10 meters. Some players confuse this with the rule about a boule straddling the boundary line of a marked playing area. They imagine an area with boundaries at 6 and 10 meters from the circle, and think that the rule says that the jack must be at least partially inside the boundaries of that area in order to be valid.

Imagine a square on the lane going from 6 to 10 meters from the circle. When you throw the jack it is valid when even the smallest part of the jack is in the square, like a boule’s validity until it totally passes the dead-ball line.


According to this mental model, the jacks straddling the “lines” in the above drawing are valid. In fact, however, there are no lines on the ground to be straddled. The jack at about 6m is NOT valid because it is less than the minimum allowable distance (6m) from the circle. (The jack at about 10 meters IS valid because it does not exceed the maximum allowable distance, 10m.)

Sometimes players express the same confusion by asking: “Does ‘between 6 and 10 meters’ mean between 6 and 10 meters as measured to the front of the jack or to its back?” Again: in petanque, when measuring the distance between two objects, you measure the shortest distance between the objects. So the answer is: the FRONT of the jack.

Which team starts the next game?

Question: In an informal setting, two teams play a series of games against each other. After a game is finished, which team throws out the jack to start the next game?

Here’s a story from Gary Jones.

When I first started learning the game, I didn’t have enough playing experience to know the most common way of playing, so I tried to glean my knowledge from the written rules. Since the rules say that the team that won the toss or the last scoring round throws the first boule, that’s the way we played– even from game to game. So we always played “Winner first.”

As an American, I had EXACTLY the same experience when I was learning the game. This year, however, we had a visiting player from France, Daniel. Daniel told us that in France they play “Losers start the next game.” I figured that since it was a French game, the French way must be the right way. But I wanted to make sure that Daniel had given us an accurate account of French tradition. So I checked with Raymond Ager, a British player who now lives in the south of France. He confirmed what Daniel had said.

I would say, in an informal setting, it’s for the players to agree such things among themselves. There is no ‘official’ rule but I think the convention that everybody adopts is that the losers of the last game start the next — in England players say, “Mugs away!”.

Another player, Andy Walker, confirmed the “Mugs away!” expression.

So there it is… The losing team starts the next game. French players can draw on long-standing oral tradition to help them when the written rules aren’t helpful. American players aren’t so lucky, and I suspect that Gary’s story and mine might be common in America. So I thought I’d write this post to help other American players who have had the same experience.

Mugs away!

After writing this post, I realized that I didn’t really know what “Mugs away!” means. A bit of internet research revealed that it is British slang (probably derived from the game of darts) and it means “Losers start!” It is what the winner of a game says to the loser, and it means basically “Let’s start (the next game). You play first.”

The word “mug” has some mildly derisive connotations.

The term ‘mug’ is simply an adoption of the common (UK) slang word ‘mug’, meaning a fool, a simpleton and especially a gullible ‘punter’ who is most likely to fall prey to a confidence trickster. (SOURCE)

It is a piece of mild one-upmanship, implying that since I (the speaker) just won, I can afford to be generous and give you (the loser, who fondly imagines he has a chance against the great me) the advantage of throwing first, although, of course, it won’t help you a bit. (SOURCE)

We need guidelines as well as rules

If an organization issues a document Rules of the Sport of X, that organization should also issue another document— Guide to the Interpretation of the Rules of X. Here’s why.

In order to be effective, a set of rules governing any activity needs to be both concise and precise; both short and clear. Every sentence should be phrased carefully and be grammatically correct. Slang and verbosity, which may cause confusion, should be rigorously avoided. Every word should be the right word, every word should count, and two words should never be used where one would do. Technical terms should be introduced explicitly, defined carefully, and used consistently. No rule should be stated twice— especially if it is worded differently in different places.

With a novel or a newspaper or a magazine article we read along, get the general gist of things, and that is all we need. We’re not used to reading documents that are written in the tight, compressed, precise way that a good rules document is written. That is why, in addition to rules documents, we need rules guides.  The purpose of a rules guide is to translate the compressed language of a rules document into the kind of language that we normally use in everyday life, so that players can more easily understand the full meaning and implication of the rules.

A rules guide document is a collection of comments on the rules. One thing that a comment can do is to point out implications of a particular rule. For example, when a single word (“only if” rather than “if) has significant implications for the meaning of a rule, a comment can point that out. Sometimes the full significance of a rule can be seen only when it is placed in a wider historical or cultural context— comments can provide that wider context. In some situations there may seem to be no applicable rule, or multiple contradictory applicable rules— a rules guide can note the existence of such situations and explain how to deal with them.

A rules guide will almost certainly need to be revised more frequently than a rules document. With time, players will inevitably find new ways to be confused by the rules, and will come up with new questions about the rules. The rules (if they were well-written) won’t need to be revised, but the rules guide will need to be updated to deal with such new confusions and questions as they emerge.

Note that a rules guide is not the same thing as an umpire’s guide. A rules guide contains comments on the rules of the game. An umpire’s guide contains guidelines, advice, and instructions for umpires, telling them how to perform their roles as umpires. A petanque umpires’ guide, for instance, would help umpires in deciding when to impose penalties and which penalties to impose; how to reach a decision when teams offer conflicting stories about what happened; and so on.

Ideally we would have three separate documents— the rules, a rules guide, and an umpire’s guide. In the case of petanque what we actually have is only the FIPJP’s international rules in which umpire guidelines are intermixed with rules of the game. There is no separate FIPJP rules guide or umpire’s guide. Some national federations also issue a “rules interpretations guidelines for umpires” that contains rules guides and umpire’s guidelines.

Verify the point before you throw

[revised: 2021-06-12]
Situations involving a boule thrown out-of-turn often raise questions. One interesting question was recently raised on “Ask the umpire”.

Boules A1 and B1 are on the ground. A1 has the point. Team B throws boule B2. B2, as it rolls through the head, bumps the jack closer to B1, giving the point to Team B. A player on Team A sees that B2 has moved the jack, but says nothing.

Team B doesn’t realize that the jack has been moved, so they continue pointing. They point three boules before going to the head to inspect the situation. When they do, they realize that all three of the boules played after B2 were played out-of-turn.

There is no question that three boules were played out-of-turn. Team A invoked the Advantage Rule in Article 24 and declared that all three were dead.

The interesting question is this. When Team A saw that the jack had been moved, weren’t they under some kind of obligation to speak up? It seems unfair that Team A said nothing and let Team B continue to throw boules which they (Team A) knew were being thrown out-of-turn.

Mike’s opinion, and the consensus opinion of the comments, was that a team is always responsible for verifying— before they play a boule— that it is their turn to play.

The opposing team is under no obligation whatsoever to say anything about what they observe, or what they think they may have observed. “In this scenario, Team B should check after playing a boule. Team A is not obliged to advise or inform Team B to check who is holding the point.”

When the thrown jack is invalid

In January 2017, the CNA (Commission Nationale d’Arbitrage, the French National Umpires Committee) issued some comments on Article 6. The comments were in French, and so weren’t readily accessible to English-speaking players. In this post, I present an English translation of those comments. My English translation is loose but I think accurate. The original French documents can be found on the FFPJP website and also HERE and HERE. You can download a document with side-by-side French and English text HERE (docx) or HERE (pdf).

Decisions of the FIPJP National Umpires Committee
28 and 29 January 2017 in Marseille

Article 6
Concerning the throw of an invalid jack

After an invalid throw of the jack, the opposing team places the jack by hand.

It is forbidden to push the jack with the feet. The first time a player does this he will be given a verbal warning. For subsequent infractions, a penalty will be awarded.

This team [that places the jack by hand] should place the jack in conformity with the rules of the game. If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules. The jack is not given back to the team that threw it.

If a team loses the throw of the jack (because it wasn’t successful in throwing a valid jack) and the jack is moved by the first boule, the opposing team, which placed the jack, may not challenge the jack’s new location, regardless of whether or not the jack’s original location was marked.

In a comment on an earlier version of this article, Gary Jones wrote (February 8, 2018):

Thank you for sharing. I do have one comment. The clarification of Article 6 states, “If the jack is not placed on the terrain in conformity with the rules, the umpire asks the team that placed it to place it in conformity with the rules.” It should also be noted that the umpire would, in all likelihood, issue a WARNING (yellow card) to the team that failed in its obligation to place the jack in a valid position.

Rules governing the jack (cochonnet, bouchon)

As of September 2018, the FIPJP rules governing the petanque jack (the little target ball, cochonnet, bouchon) are as follows. We will discuss synthetic and paramagnetic jacks later in this post.

  1. The jack must be made of wood.
  2. The jack must be 30mm, +/- 1mm in diameter.
  3. The jack must weigh between 10g and 18g.
  4. The jack may be unpainted or painted any color.
  5. A painted jack may not be painted with paramagnetic paint.

Table of Contents

  1. Documents containing the rules governing jacks
  2. A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks
  3. Synthetic jacks
  4. Paramagnetic jacks
  5. The weight of jacks
  6. The future of jacks

Continue reading

Foot faults – What to do?

When a player or team breaks the rules in some way, we are confronted with two questions.

The first question is the How to Continue Question. “What should the players do, so that they can carry on with the game?” This question has two possible answers. (a) “Undo the illegal event.” (b) “It is not possible to undo the illegal event, so just leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.”

The second question is the Penalty Question. “What penalty, if any, should an umpire impose on the offending player or team?”

In non-umpired games players need to deal only with the How to Continue Question, but in umpired games the umpire must deal with both questions. An umpire must ask himself, “In this case, should I apply a Continue Rule? a Penalty Rule? both?” This can be a tricky question, especially in the case of foot faults, where the Penalty Rules interact with the Continue Rules. This was illustrated in a recent discussion of a question on Ask the Umpire. The question was

A player lifted a foot while throwing. His thrown boule successfully shot away an opponent’s boule. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged. Did the umpire rule correctly?

International umpire Mike Pegg’s answer was NO. Mike’s opinion was that “The umpire should have disqualified the boule and put back the original boule because the player who lifted his foot should not be given this unfair advantage.” FPUSA umpire Gary Jones’s answer was YES. “Since Article 6 clearly states that Article 35 should be applied for the infraction of lifting one’s foot while throwing, and Article 24 clearly states that it is applicable only where the rules do not provide for specific and graduated penalties as outlined in Article 35, I would rule exactly as the presiding umpire did.”

Gary’s surprising (but I believe correct) answer points out the way that Penalty Rules can interact with Continue Rules. Here is the text of the relevant rules. I have underlined the important clause in Article 24 noted by Gary.

Article 6
The player’s feet… must not leave the circle or be completely lifted off the ground until the thrown boule has touched the ground… Any player not respecting this rule shall incur the penalties specified in Article 35.

Article 24 – Boules thrown contrary to the rules
Except for cases in which these regulations specify the application of specific and graduated penalties in article 35, any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead, and anything that it displaced in its travel is put back in place, if those objects had been marked.

In short, Article 24 says

Normally, if a boule is thrown contrary to the rules, the boule is dead and the effects of the thrown boule should be undone, if possible. BUT… if in a particular situation the rules specify the imposition of an Article 35 penalty, impose an appropriate penalty and then leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.

So the umpire’s decision in this case was correct. The umpire gave the player a warning (yellow card) but let the situation on the ground remain unchanged.

This interpretation of Article 24 raises the question of what it means for a boule to be “thrown contrary to the rules”. (Read other posts on this topic.) As far as I can tell, the FIPJP rules contain only two articles that both (a) cover situations in which a boule is thrown contrary to the rules, and (b) specify that the penalties in Article 35 should be applied.

Article 6 covers foot faults. The player’s feet are not entirely inside the circle when throwing, or the player lifts a foot (or touches the ground outside the circle with any part of his body) before the thrown boule hits the ground.
Article 16: The player fails to remove mud from his boule before throwing it.

In these cases an umpire may give the player an appropriate penalty (probably a warning), but the game on the ground should be allowed to remain as it is.

The Penalty Rules haven’t always interacted with the Continue Rules in this way— the underlined clause in Article 24 hasn’t always been there— it was inserted into the rules as part of the 2016 rules revisions. I assume that the FIPJP International Umpires Committee knew the implications of what they were doing, and that they inserted the clause because they wanted what it implied. But old habits die hard for umpires who have been umpiring for many years under the old rules. I expect that different umpires will mentally merge the old and new texts of Article 24 and come up with different ways of interpreting the rule about foot faults. Take Mike Pegg for example.

In the past, Mike Pegg has ruled that if a foot fault gave the player an unfair advantage then BOTH Article 6 AND Article 24 should be applied— the player should be given a warning AND the thrown boule should be declared dead and illegally-moved balls put back. Before the 2016 rules revision this was a reasonable way to interpret the rules, especially in cases where committing a foot fault clearly gave a player some advantage (e.g. a player stands on the side of the circle in order to get a better line of play around a blocking boule). (On the other hand, it opens a can of worms about whether or not a player gained an advantage from a foot fault. Does a player gain any advantage by stepping on the front of the circle? On the back? By lifting a foot?)

The new clause in 2016 changed that. Now Article 24 seems pretty clearly to prohibit applying both Article 6 and Article 24 for a foot fault. Mike Pegg may still apply both of them, but other umpires do not. The umpire whose decision prompted the question on “Ask the Umpire” didn’t. In July 2017, during the final of the Masters de Pétanque at Clermont, an umpire gave Dylan Rocher a yellow card for a foot fault, but he didn’t disqualify Dylan’s thrown boule. So Mike’s interpretation of the rules seems to differ from other umpires.

Mazlan Ahmad has suggested that it might be a good idea to revoke the new clause. “Without that clause, enforcement of Article 24 for all foot-fault infractions becomes mandatory— just like the days before the 2016 rules revision.” We’ll have to wait for the next revision of the FIPJP rules to see if the international umpires agree with him.

Note that Dylan’s right foot is lifed completely off of the ground and outside the circle. The thrown boule is still too high in the air to be seen in this picture. See THIS or THIS.