| jack | petanque | rules | terrain | throw | women | ▼ |
This is a brief introduction to pétanque — history, features, facts and legends. For pétanque terminology, see:
Boets, Philippe ▲
Philippe Boets, the Belgian founder of PetanqueAmerica, the online store and the blog, is undoubtedly the single most important figure in the short history of pétanque in the USA. Through his company Pétanque America, and his company’s sponsorship of the Pétanque America Open, Phillipe has done more than any other person to promote pétanque in America. Read this interview with Philippe Boets.
In contrast to pétanque, the rules of bocce are quite loose and flexible — or perhaps we should say that bocce can be played in may different ways, and by many different sets of rules. Bocce is typically played on a dedicated court with back and side boards, and the game is typically a bowling or rolling game. But some variations of bocce can be played on natural terrains using a volo throw, and are similar in that way to pétanque. In fact, it is possible to think of pétanque as a form or variant of bocce.
In bocce, players may have a short run-up to the launch of the ball (as in bowling) and balls are usually rolled rather than thrown. A bocce ball is larger than a pétanque ball, and made of solid wood (or a wood-like epoxy composite) rather than hollow steel. In bocce, balls may be played (bounced, caromed) off of side boards and even off of obstacles — in pétanque, barriers and obstacles are always out of bounds; outside of the “dead boule” line.
In the USA, many more people play bocce than play pétanque, so the average American is more likely to have heard of bocce than of pétanque. One of the best-selling books about bocce in the USA is Mario Pagnoni’s The Joy of Bocce.
a metal pétanque ball. Boules may vary in size, weight, and hardness.
Players with smaller hands may prefer smaller boules. Players who prefer to point tend to prefer smaller, heavier, and harder boules, while players who prefer to shoot tend to prefer larger, lighter, and softer boules.
The FIPJP is very strict about the boules used in FIPJP-approved tournaments — boules must be of a size, weight, and hardness that conforms to FIPJP specifications, and must have been made by an FIPJP-approved manufacturer. Such boules are expensive, so non-FIPJP tournaments (for example, the Pétanque America Open in Florida, and competitions in New Zealand) often allow the use of reasonable non-FIPJP-approved boules. This encourages people to participate in competitions.
is the collective name for a family of ball games in which the objective is to throw or roll large heavy balls (also called “boules”) as close as possible to a small target ball. Boules-type games are traditional and popular in France, Italy, Germany and other European countries, where boules are often played in open spaces (town squares and parks) in villages and towns.
There is a wide variety of boules games, which differ among themselves in a variety of ways, including whether the boules are rolled or thrown; how the ball is launched (palm up or palm down); in whether or not there is a run-up to the throw; and in the size, weight, and composition (wood, metal, epoxy resin composite) of the balls. See the article on boules in wikipedia.
boule cloutée ▲
In French, a clou is a nail, so a boule cloutée is a nailed ball. Before the 1850′s boules were wooden balls, sometimes partially reinforced with hand-forged nails. When cheap, plentiful machine-made nails became available, manufacturers began to produce the boule cloutée — a wooden core studded with nails to create an all-metal surface. Nails of different metals and colors (steel, brass and copper) were used to create a wide variety of designs and patterns. Some of the old boules cloutées are genuine works of art and valued collectors items. For more information, see our article on the boule cloutée.
Starting in the 1925, hollow metal boules gradually replaced the older nailed-wood boules.
La Boule Intégrale and the all-metal ball ▲
In the early 20th century, boules sports were increasingly being played with boules cloutées — nailed-wood balls made of boxwood root. The number of boules players, and the demand for boules, increased to the point that in the early 1920s there was a catastrophic shortage of boxwood roots. Something had to be done.
In Lyon, around 1920, Paul Courtieu had the idea of manufacturing a boule made entirely of metal. After two years of experimenting with various metal alloys, he succeeded in developing a workable “bronze” alloy of copper, aluminum, and other metals. In 1923 he patented a ball made of two welded-together metal hemispheres, and in 1924 he filed a patent for a ball that was cast in one piece — the famous “Boule Intégrale”. In January 1925 La Boule Intégrale was approved for use in official competition. In 1927, the JB Petanque company began manufacturing the first steel (as opposed to bronze) petanque ball.
Acceptance of the metal balls was immediate, new companies manufacturing all-metal balls quickly appeared, and petanque experienced an explosive growth in popularity. 1925, then, is a significant year in the history of petanque — it marks the death of the boule cloutée and the birth of the modern game of pétanque. For more information, see La Boule Intégrale and the rise of petanque.
boule lyonnaise ▲
See Jeu Provençal
boule lifter ▲
a magnet attached to a string or a telescoping rod — a pétanque accessory that allows a pétanque play to pick up boules without bending over. Note that since the jack is wooden, a magnetic boule lifter cannot pick up the jack.
The answer to the question: “What do you call a boules player?”
A place (an open area or a building) for playing pétanque and boules. USA English: “bowling alley”; UK English: “bowling pitch”. See our discussion of Court, terrain, boulodrome.
There are two more or less professionalized boulodromes (pétanque courts) in La Ciotat, the city in which Jules LeNoir invented pétanque: Boulomanes and the exquisite Bouledrome Jules LeNoir. In the summer, these courts host tournaments nearly every day. — Introduction to Pétanque History, Game & Spectacle
boules, flying with ▲
The Transportation Safety Administration considers a boule a potentially deadly weapon. So when you fly to your next tournament, remember to put your boules in your checked luggage, or mail them ahead of time via USPS priority mail (“If it fits, it ships”).
a shot that knocks away an opponent’s boule and leaves the shooter’s boule in the spot formerly occupied by the opponent’s boule.
The best shot is called a “carreau”: the shooter throws the ball through the air, with lots of backspin; when it hits, the shooter’s ball stays right where the target boule was, spinning into place. A “carreau” effectively gives the shooting team an extra boule, since the ball that was shot now has the point. The next best shot is called a “palais,” where the shooter’s boule knocks the opponent’s boule away, while remaining relatively close to the bouchon, at least enough to count as the point. At the elite level, many games are decided by carreaux and palais, the team making the most win. — Introduction to Pétanque History, Game & Spectacle
championships — international and world championships ▲
- Le Mondial la Marseillaise à Pétanque sponsored by Ricard Pastis
- the Mondial de Millau
- the “World Championship” is the Championnat du Monde de Pétanque organised by the Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FIPJP).
championships — USA ▲
- Pétanque America sponsors the annual Pétanque America Open every year in November in Florida. It is a very newbie-friendly event. It is open to all pétanque players from anywhere in the world, and you can play with any metal pétanque boules as long as they’re within the normal size range (70.5 to 80 mm). In 2011, 136 doubles teams came from 25 states, Canada and Europe.
- The FPUSA sponsors tournaments and championships in the USA. To find a calendar of upcoming FPUSA-sponsored events, go to the FPUSA web page, and click on “calendar”.
Don’t forget — if you are flying to a tournament, you cannot put your boules in your carry-on luggage.
The throwing circle (cercle de lancer) or ring (rond) in which a player stands while throwing. Traditionally the circle was simply scratched in the dirt, and it was the responsibility of the team that threw out the jack to draw the new circle and to erase all older nearby circles. When this was not done, confusion and arguments could arise over the location of the circle. As a consequence, since about 2007, it has become a common (although not required) practice to use a plastic circle of 50 cm (20″) inside diameter, and experience has shown that the circles help limit mistakes in playing from the wrong circle, drawing non-regulation size circles, and in reducing foot fouls. See how a folding circle works.
A rolling or flying boule can be dangerous; it is basically a small cannon ball. Dedicated terrains often have backboards to define the playing area and prevent boules from crashing into spectators. In public spaces without backboards, it’s the responsibility of players to form a corridor on both sides of the jack. The French call it “le couloir”.
Pétanque players dislike the expression “pétanque court”. In English the word “court” usually refers to a (sometimes expensive and elaborate) playing facility constructed specifically for the playing of a particular game — in short, a boulodrome. But pétanque can be (and traditionally, is) a low footprint game — you don’t need a boulodrome — all you need is a patch of fairly level open ground. As the Pétanque America web site says —
Actually the word “court” is a misnomer. We use it here because many people search for that term. Pétanque is by nature a game one can play without a setup, sort of like frisbee.
The English-language word “court” is sometimes used to refer simply to the area where a game is being played. But in such situations, for petanque, a better term is terrain. See our discussion of Court, terrain, boulodrome.
(co-sho-nay, piglet) — see: the jack.
dead-boule line ▲
or dead-ball line — the lines (lignes de perte) outside of which a boule or a jack is considered to be out-of-play (perte, “lost”, “dead”). In short, it is the line that marks the boundary between in bounds and out-of-bounds areas of the piste.
When a playing area is marked off into adjoining pistes, the dead-boule line follows the external boundary lines of the set of adjoining pistes. The internal boundary lines (separating the pistes) are not dead-boule lines. If a boule or jack crosses an internal boundary line into a neighboring piste, it is still alive and in play.
If the playing area is surrounded by solid barriers (backboards) these must be at least one meter outside the dead-boule line. Or, to put it another way, if the playing area is enclosed in backboards, the dead-boule line must be at least one meter inside the backboards.
The existence of the dead-boule line creates the possibility for all sorts of interesting questions, such as “If the jack is struck and knocked out of bounds, how do we continue the game?” and “Suppose that a boule goes out of bounds, hits the backboard, bounces back inside the dead-boule line, and finally hits and moves another boule (or, perhaps, the jack). What do we do in such a situation?”
A divot is a hole or dent in the terrain left by the impact of an earlier throw of a boule.
One of the hot questions in pétanque has always been — How much may a player change the surface of the terrain during the course of a game? The general philosophy has always been that a player is allowed to make essentially NO CHANGE to the terrain. Remember, for example, that although a player is allowed to brush debris out of the throwing circle before throwing, at the end of the frame, all of the debris that has been removed has to be put back!
But… One traditional exception to this rule has been that a player is allowed to smooth out only one divot, the last divot. In 2009, the FIPJP changed the rules so that a player may now fill a divot anywhere on the piste… but only one!
“landing spot”. The spot where a pointer wants the thrown boule to hit the ground. This is not the spot where he wants it to end up — presumably the ball will roll after it hits the ground. The pointer may control the direction and amount of the roll by putting spin on the ball. Before the throw, a team-mate may indicate the desired donnée by pointing a toe, but must not make any mark on the terrain.
Fanny is, as it were, the patron saint of boules..
To fanny (mettre fanny)
— To beat one’s opponents 13 to 0. The figure of a bare-bottomed lass named Fanny is ubiquitous in Provence wherever pétanque is played. It is traditional that when a player loses 13 to 0 it is said that “il est fanny” (he’s fanny) or “il a fait fanny” (he made fanny), and that he has to kiss the bottom of a girl called Fanny. Since there is rarely an obliging Fanny’s behind handy, there is usually a substitute picture, woodcarving or pottery so that Fanny’s bottom is available. Equally important, after the game “Fanny paie à boire!” — “The fanny buys the drinks!”
To technical fanny
— To win by scoring 13 consecutive points. For example if a team had scored 12 consecutive points, the opposition could then score all 13 points and win the game with a technical fanny.
Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (International Federation for Pétanque and Jeu Provençal) is the international governing body for pétanque. Its web site is www.fipjp.com. See the discussion of pétanque organizations on this site.
foot fault ▲
A foot fault is committed in pétanque, when a player, while throwing, fails to keep both feet on the ground and inside the circle from the moment the boule leaves his hand until the moment it touches the ground. One way a player can commit a foot fault is to throw while one of his feet is touching, on top of, or outside the throwing circle. Another way is to lift one foot from the ground before the thrown boule lands.
For a player in a wheelchair, the same rules apply to the wheel of the chair on the same side of the player’s body as his throwing arm. Pétanque is, therefore, one of the few games in which it is possible to commit a “wheel fault”.
Games are divided into what the French call mènes, what I will call “rounds” or “innings” or “frames.” Points are tallied at the end of each round, that is, after all of the boules have been played by both teams. The team that has the boule closest to the bouchon gets one point, plus a point for every other boule that lies closer to the bouchon than the other team’s nearest boule. — Introduction to Pétanque History, Game & Spectacle
Frames are played until one of the teams accumulates enough points — 13 points — to win the game.
game on the ground ▲
“Game on the ground” is an expression for a situation in which one team has finished throwing all of its boules and “has the point”. The team will win the game unless their opponents, who still have boules to throw, are able to change the situation.
“Gareth’s shot remains the winning point until the opposition play their last boule, which just beats it on the other side of the bouchon, about 8-9 inches away. This is game on the ground for the opposition. It cannot stand.
Fortunately, Gareth has one boule in hand and Pat two. They need to shoot the boule or outpoint it. They confer.
Gareth shoots. He misses. Pat shoots. Not only does the shot hit the (right) boule, but it also moves the bouchon towards Gareth’s boule.
That’s it. Yes, yes, yes. They win the point! They win the game! We win the match!.” — Brighton Pétanque
“Eleven boules had been played … There was game on the ground unless the boule that remained, the one resting in Eric’s hand, could make it different. The eternal question was in the air: shoot or point?
Eric went into a crouch to point and released his boule smoothly and forcefully. It dropped and rolled deliberately toward the jack, passed between it and the other boules and continued on its way. But as it passed, it clipped the back boule, pushing it farther from the jack. The game was over!” —FPUSA blog
have the point ▲
A team “has the point” when the boule that is closest to the jack is one of its boules. The team that “has the point” after all boules have been thrown in a frame, wins the frame. When a team has the point, the opposing team throws.
“Jack” is the British English-language term for the little colored wooden ball that is thrown out as a target. The FIPJP rules refer to it as le but (the target, goal), but in daily play it is usually referred to as the cochonnet (co-sho-nay, piglet). On French TV it is usually referred to as bouchon (cork). In the USA, it is often referred to as “the pig”. In bocce it is called the pallino and sometimes just le petit (the little one).
When the jack is first thrown out, it must land 6 to 10 meters from the throwing circle, and at least one meter from any obstacle or from the out-of-bounds line.
Jacks are made of wood, typically boxwood or beechwood. One reason for having a wooden jack in a game otherwise played with iron balls is that FIPJP rules require— for obvious reasons— that the jack be non-magnetic.
Jeu Provençal ▲
Jeu Provençal, also known as boule lyonnaise, is a form of bocce and the immediate ancestor of pétanque. Like pétanque, it is a throwing game using metal balls. But the typical playing area is larger and the game involves an elaborate run-up to the launch of the ball. For more information, see the wikipedia article.
Shooters try to knock the opponent’s balls away from the bouchon; to do so, they run three steps from the circle and, upon the third step — while in the air — throw their boule at the target boule, before the next foot (the fourth step) touches the ground. I am not making this up. The Jeu Provençale is actually a lovely and venerable sport, still played by tens of thousands, primarily in the South of France. The average game takes three to four hours to complete. The most important competitions are the French national championships, usually in June, and the Provençale, which takes place in the Parc Borély in Marseille, in August. — Introduction to Pétanque History, Game & Spectacle
You can see a typical Jeu Provençal running throw about 25 seconds into this clip of the boules scene of the movie “Fanny”, and, more recently, in this YouTube news clip from French TV.
marked terrain ▲
A terrain whose boundary lines are marked off (typically by strings or chalk lines) in order to distinguish it from other terrains in a larger playing area; piste. The opposite of a marked terrain is an open terrain.
is the undisputed capital of pétanque. Each year in early July the city hosts the four-day world championship of boules, Le Mondial la Marseillaise à Pétanque, created in 1962 by the pastis king, Paul Ricard.
A French company, La Boule OBUT is one of the major manufacturers of boules. It shares St. Bonnet-le-Chateau, a small village near Lyon, with JB Pétanque, another major boule manufacturer. In 1991, Obut created the one and only International Museum of Pétanque and Bowls.
An anise (licorice) flavored French liqueur traditionally associated with pétanque
Great games never end, but are rather reconstructed and debated over pastis, a complex liqueur made of anise and a dozen other spices. The pastis bar is literally built into a good boulodrome setting in the South [of France].
Pastis is normally diluted with water before drinking, generally five volumes of water for one volume of pastis, but often neat pastis is served together with a jug of water for the drinker to blend together according to preference. See our post on How to drink pastis.
One of the best-known manufacturers of pastis, and a name traditionally associated with pétanque, is Ricard.
Mike Pegg ▲
Mike Pegg is the only authorized petanque FIPJP International Umpire who is also a native English speaker. He is or has been president of the British Petanque Federation, president of the English Petanque Association, a member of the board of the CEP (Confédération de Européenne Pétanque), and a member of the FIPJP’s International Umpires Commission (Commission arbitrage, statuts et réglements), the group that writes the petanque rules-of-play for the FIPJP. He was a member of the commission when it produced the 2009 revisions that simplified the rules for the “dead boule” line. He is the web master for the British Petanque web site (a lot of good information there!) and if you have a really tough question about the rules (or just want to read and learn) his Facebook page Ask the Umpire is an incredibly valuable resource.
(pay-TONK) is a form of boules in which metal (rather than wooden) balls are thrown (rather than rolled) while the player stands with both feet (pieds) firmly planted (tanqués, “nailed down”). A game consists of a series of frames, and is played to the winning score of 13.
The fishing village of La Ciotat, on the coast of Provence not far from Marseille, was once an important port and industrial town, although it now survives mostly as a base for summer tourists visiting the sunny Mediterranean beaches. Legend has it that Ernest Pitiot, a cafe owner and terrain manager in La Ciotat, created pétanque in 1907 for a friend and former Jeu Provencal champion named Jules Lenoir, whose rheumatism prevented him from running up to the throw. In the new game, players no longer threw their boules with a running launch, but from a fixed position, standing in a small circle. The new game was pétanque (the name comes from the Provençal phrase pèd tanca, meaning “anchored feet” or “feet nailed down”). It caught on, and the first pétanque tournament was organized three years later, in 1910.
Here is a video of a 2011 tournament game. Watch just the first 90 seconds. You will see many typical features of pétanque — the metal boules and the throws, the packed-earth terrain, the strings separating the pistes, the red throwing circle, throwers carrying boule towels. The video opens with a Laos shooter (in black trousers) knocking the jack out of the court. A new frame starts. The captain of the Thai team puts down the circle for the new frame (rather casually, in the jack’s former position, because the jack was knocked out of the piste at the end of the previous frame) and throws out the jack. He then inspects the situation and points with his toe to the donnee, and perhaps smooths out a single divot — the only change that he is allowed to make to the terrain. The Thai pointer then throws the first boule. Which the opposing team promptly shoots.
The answer to the question: “What do you call a pétanque player?”
literally, “a strip of trampled-down earth”. When strings are used to divide a large pétanque playing area into long strip-like “marked terrains”, each of the marked terrains is called a piste, or in English, a lane (as in “bowling lane”) . For more information, see the entry for terrain.
Also known as “placing”. To throw one’s boule with the intent of stopping near the jack, in contrast to throwing with the intent of shooting an opponent’s ball (or the jack). Three important pointing throws are —
- la portée or la plombée — a high lob; to throw one’s boule in a high arc so that when it lands it rolls only very minimally.
- la demi-portée — a half-lob
- la roulette — a rolling throw (similar to the bocce punto)
Putman, Byron ▲
Pastis was first commercialized by Paul Ricard (“Ricard”, not “Richard”) in 1932 and enjoys substantial popularity in France, especially in the southern regions of the country. Ricard is traditionally a sponsor of pétanque tournaments, and Ricard pastis is served in the refreshment area at most Pétanque tournaments (in France, at least).
The “most official” pétanque rule book is the FIPJP (International Pétanque Federation) set of rules, which are written in French. There are a number of different English-language translations and versions of the rules, including those by the FIPJP itself, by the FPUSA (USA Pétanque Federation), and by the EPA (English Pétanque Association). For more information, see our page Pétanque Rules.
To throw one’s boule at one of the opponent’s boules (or at the jack) with the intention of moving it or knocking it out of play. This is often done when the opponent has pointed his/her boule very close to the jack.
soft pétanque ▲
pétanque molle (“soft pétanque”, also known as “indoor pétanque”) is pétanque played with soft boules that are similar to an American softball, but even softer. Soft pétanque provides a way for adults and children to play (or practice) pétanque indoors on rainy or snowy days that don’t permit the playing of “real” pétanque with steel balls. But there is no reason why indoor pétanque could not be considered a legitimate game in its own right and played for its own sake.
A place where a pétanque game is played.
You call a patch of flat open ground a terrain when a game of pétanque is being played on it.
When a village square is hosting only one game, the game’s terrain covers the entire square. When a playing area is hosting several games at the same time, each game’s terrain is called an open terrain if there are no lines to mark its boundaries and separate it from the other terrains. A terrain is called a marked terrain if its boundaries are marked by lines (of chalk, paint, or, most typically, string).
When a marked terrain has the shape of a long thin strip, it is called a piste (lane). For FIPJP tournament play, games must be played on a marked terrain (a piste) that is at least 4 meters wide and 15 meters long.
Sometimes the word “terrain” (or “marked terrain”) is used to refer to the entire playing area, and each of the areas where a game is being played is referred to as a “piste”. See, for example, this diagram of a “marked terrain” from the British Pétanque web site.
Games like tennis and badminton have the concept of “serving” the ball and of a “server”. No such concept exists in petanque — there are no traditional technical terms for the act of throwing or the player doing the throwing. (FIPJP rules refer to boules being “thrown” (lancer) or “played”, not “served”.) In part this is because in tennis you get to “serve” when you’ve just won a point, whereas in petanque, you get to “serve” when you have just lost the point.
… as in: news stories with titles like “Pétanque becomes trendy (or cool, or hip)”.
Stories appear periodically, on television or in the newspapers, announcing that pétanque is taking the country by storm. The stories are wildly hyperbolic, and fall into one of two categories.
The first category is — it is a slow news day, so here is a human-interest story about [Strange But Interesting People In Our Town]
The second category is [Somebody got a snapshot of one of The Beautiful People throwing a boule]
In this category, a wave of stories about pétanque swept the international media in July and August 2010 after a single evening party that Karl Lagerfeld threw in St Tropez for The Beautiful People. Or was it for The Hip Young People? I forget.
Do women play pétanque? Isn’t pétanque played mostly by men?
It is true that pétanque traditionally has been a man’s game. But times change, and today the number of women pétanque players is slowly growing, and there are even women’s tournaments and championships. For example, the 2012 USA Women’s National Championships were held at the Maine Boules Club in Blue Hill, Maine.
On what looks like a drizzly day in September 2010, 102 women on 34 teams participated in a women’s triples tournament in Münster, Germany. The only men in sight were the guys doing the registration.