Petanque Rules to Remember



Here are reminders on some of the most often over-looked rules of the game. It is common for players to agree to not bother with some of these rules, but by not playing strictly by the rules at all time, they have changed the nature of the game. And more importantly, perhaps, set themselves up for developing bad habits when it comes time for serious tournament play. Tournaments can be challenging enough without the distraction of your opponents, or worse, the Umpire calling you on rules violations.

Note! The international petanque rules were updated at the end of 2008. The new rules for 2009 can be found at:

The rules below might have been modified since this page was created - refer to the 2009 rules for complete accuracy. Nonetheless the concepts presented below are still valid!


Playing Tips


Petanque Talk!

Drawing the throwing circle around the jack

Article 7 - Throwing Distance and Requirements. "... At the folllowing end, the jack is thrown from a cicle drawn around the point where it finished at the pervious end,..."

It is common in casual play to draw the throwing circle wherever one wishes. Sometimes this is done to practice over a specific surface, or to gain distance, or to preserve the surface or avoid an area that has gotten too rough. But by not drawing the throwing circle around the jack (Article 7), one is changing the nature of the game. The rough areas part of the challenge that makes petanque so fun. Moving the circle because your playing style is at a disadvantage over certain surfaces is not part of the game.

I have furthermore seen players disregard this rule and draw the throwing circle in order to move the game into an area at which they were proficient and thereby gained an advantage. Certainly once having properly encircled the jack it is always wise to look at the best place to throw the jack to gain what little advantage your throwing style and skills afford you, but moving the circle simply to get to an area that gives you an advantage is strictly against the rules.

The abuse of this rule has become rampant in some clubs, but one can expect that at Regional, National, and International tournaments it will be enforced. It is best to play using this rule at all times. If you have trouble with certain surfaces practice to overcome that issue. If the surface needs repair work, volunteer to help with its renovation. But don't start moving the circle around just to suit you, because at some point someone is going to call you on it.

And remember, when there is not enough room to throw the jack the distance that you wish - minimum 6 meters, maximum 10 meters - you must step back only as far as is necessary to gain that distance, AND in a direct line with the prior location of the jack. So you can not step back to allow 12 meters of throwing area, and you can not shift to one side or the other when stepping back. In fact, so long as there is a minimum of 6 meters to throw the jack out, you are under no obligation to step back at all if you do not wish to! This is good to remember for players that want to keep the ends shorter for whatever reason (better for their shooter, have a hard time pointing to the long ends, whatever).


Picking up boules too soon

A common mistake that is made is to pick up boules before the points at the end are agreed upon by the team captains.

Article 26 - Removing Boules After Play says " At the finish of an end, all boules picked up before the agreement of points are void if their positions were not marked. No claims can be made on this subject." Pretty clear. If you pick up your boules saying "Lets see, that's 2 points for us..." before the other team gets down to the end and agrees you could well end up with no points! Wait until the other side agrees before touching any boules!

Picking up boules

Standing in the wrong place and talking

Article 16 covers Players & Spectators - Conduct During Play. It pretty much makes it clear that while a player is throwing their boule spectators and other players are to observe total silence. I've been in a few polite games where this has been observed more or less... but all too often folks are chattering away, laughing, giving each other back rubs, and gesturing while waiting their turn to throw. So here is a rule that needs people to be aware of it and to please try to follow it.

Article 16 goes on to say that opponents must not walk, geticulate, or do anything that could disturb the player about to play. I wonder though about a player that has just thrown and is walking down to position themselves beyond the jack - as they are supposed to. I had someone grumpily tell me to stop walking when I was simply moving to the end to stand quietly. I do watch the thrower and try to freeze to minimize distraction. At any rate this rule goes back to not doing anything intentionally to distract the thrower.

"The opponents must remain beyond the jack or behind the player and, in both cases, to the side of the end's line of play and at a distance of at least 2 meters from one or the other." I saw the flagrant disregard of this rule, indeed the entire Article 16, at one very important tournament. The opponents - who were relatively new to the game - stood as a team about 4 feet from the throwing circle off to the right talking, laughing and gesturing while waiting their turn to play! The thrower, rightfully asked them to quiet down and to move... they didn't know Article 16 apparently and argued with the thrower! They could have been "banned from the competition" for their behavior.

So, stand quietly either beyond the jack and 2 meters to the side, or quietly behind and to the side of the thrower. Petanque is a sociable game, but not while someone is trying to throw!


Cleaning the surface during a game

Many times during a game you will see people tossing a stone or acorn off to the side as they prepare the surface for their throw. Not allowed! Remember that petanque was not derived from lawn bowling or other tidy sports. It was developed to be played in town squares, city parks and vacant lots! The nature and conditon of the surface is intended to be a part of the challenge and fun of the game!

Artilce 10 - Removal of Obstacles- Penalties makes it pretty clear that the surface is not to be messed with excepting a few exceptions. "It is strictly forbidden for any player to remove, move or flatten any obstacle on the terrainwithin the boundaries of the playing area." Strictly forbidden no less! There are a few instanses that you can tidy up - the next player can fill the hole of the last boule thrown for example - but tossing acorns aside or brushing a rock out of your line of throw is not allowed.

OK, so that is during the game - once the bouchon is thrown and the game begun, no cleaning! But what about before the game starts? It is common to see the rollers in the crowd out there returning the terrain to its pre-tournament-start pristine condition, tossing out acorns, twigs, leaves, leveling divots, and abandoned throwing circles... is that allowed??? From what I have been able to glean from authorities that should know, yes, that is allowed. You can not change the nature of the terrain - like add stones or dig a trench - but you can tidy it up so long as you do so before the game begins. Remember the team winning the coin toss can cut the cleaning short simply by beginning the game!


Dropping boules while in the throwing circle

It is common for players to enter the throwing circle and then drop one or more of their boules to get them out of their way while throwing. Technically, those dropped boules could be considered their throw!

Article 6 says that "The circle is not considered to be out of bounds." So even if the boules are dropped inside the circle they are considered to have been thrown.

Though this rule is rarely enforced, it could be. In a tough competition, your opponents would be within their rights to consider a dropped boule to be your throw. I used to have the habit of taking my three boules into the circle with me, then when I decided to shoot I would drop one boule outside the circle for better balance. That would have been my throw if my opponents had enforced the rule! Other times I have seen players throw down their boule in a pique of frustration at a bad throw while still in the throwing circle. That gesture of frustration was their throw. I saw this once at the World Qualifier - certainly there one could expect an opponent to enforce the rule given the level of competition! They didn't, but glances were exchanged - and too, someone like that would not have represented our country well in international competition.

The lesson here is, either drop your extra boules before you step into the throwing circle, or step out of the circle to drop them, and then step back into the circle.

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  copyright 2007 - 2011 Nathan G. Doster