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Pétanque players in Cannes

Pétanque (French pronunciation: [petɑ̃ːk]) is a form of boules where the goal is, while standing with the feet together in a small circle, to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally "piglet") or jack. It is also called sometimes a bouchon (literally "cork")or le petit ("the small one"). The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel, but can also be played on grass or other surfaces. Soft sandy beaches are not suitable. Similar games are bocce and bowls.

The current form of the game originated in 1907 in La Ciotat, in Provence, in southern France. The English and French name pétanque comes from la petanca [peˈtaŋkɔ] in the Provençal dialect of the Occitan language, deriving from the expression pès tancats [ˈpɛ taŋˈka], meaning "feet together"[1] or more exactly "feet anchored".

The casual form of the game of pétanque is played by about 17 million people in France, mostly during their summer vacations. There are about 375,000 players licensed with the Fédération Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP) and some 3,000 in England. Another 20,000 or so play in Quebec. Additionally, pétanque clubs have arisen in cities throughout the United States in recent years.



The Ancient Greeks are recorded to have played a game of tossing coins, then flat stones, and later stone balls, called spheristics, trying to have them go as far as possible, as early as the 6th century B.C. The Ancient Romans modified the game by adding a target that had to be approached as closely as possible. This Roman variation was brought to Provence by Roman soldiers and sailors. A Roman sepulchre in Florence shows people playing this game, stooping down to measure the points.[2]

After the Romans, the stone balls were replaced by wooden balls, with nails to give them greater weight. In the Middle Ages Erasmus referred to the game as globurum, but it became commonly known as 'boules,' or balls, and it was played throughout Europe. King Henry III of England banned the playing of the game by his archers, and in the 14th century, Charles IV and Charles V of France also forbade the sport to commoners. Only in the 17th century was the ban lifted.[3]

By the 19th century, in England the sport had become "bowls" or "lawn bowling"; in France, it was known as boules, and was played throughout the country. The French artist Meissonnier made two paintings showing people playing the game, and Honoré de Balzac described a match in La Comédie Humaine. In the South of France it had evolved into jeu provençal, similar to today's pétanque, except that the field was larger and players ran three steps before throwing the ball. The game was played in villages all over Provence, usually on squares of land in the shade of plane trees. Matches of jeu provençale at the turn of the century are memorably described in the memoirs of novelist Marcel Pagnol.

Pétanque in its present form was invented in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseilles by a French boule lyonnaise player named Jules Lenoir, whom rheumatism prevented from running before he threw the ball.[4] The length of the pitch or field was reduced by roughly half, and the moving delivery was replaced with a stationary one.

The first pétanque tournament with the new rules was organized in 1910 by the brothers Ernest and Joseph Pitiot, proprietors of a café at La Ciotat. After that the sport grew with great speed, and soon became the most popular form of boules. The international Pétanque federation Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal was founded in 1958 in Marseille and has about 600,000 members in 52 countries (2002).

The first World Championships were organized in 1959. The most recent championships were held in Faro (2000), Monaco (2001), Grenoble (2002, 2004 and 2006), Geneva (2003), Brussels (2005), and Pattaya / Thailand (2007). Fifty-two teams from 50 countries participated in 2007.

Playing the game

In this game red's boule is closest to the jack, followed by blue. Red scores one point, blue scores nothing
Here red has two boules closer, and scores two points

Pétanque is played by two, four or six people.[5] In the singles and doubles games each player has three boules; in triples they have only two. A coin is tossed to decide which side goes first. The starting team draws a circle on the ground which is 35-50 centimetres in diameter: all players must throw their boules from within this circle, with both feet remaining on the ground. The first player throws the jack 6-10 metres away; it must be at least one metre from the boundary.

Order of play

The player who threw the jack then throws their first boule. A player from the opposing team then makes a throw. Play continues with the team that is not closest to the jack having to continue throwing until they either land a boule closer to the jack than their opponents or run out of boules.

If the closest boules from each team are an equal distance from the jack, then the team that played last plays again. If the boules are still equidistant then the teams play alternately until the position changes. If the boules are still equidistant at the end of the game then no points are scored by either team.

The game continues with a player from the team that won the previous end drawing a new circle around where the jack finished and throwing the jack for a new end.


Points are scored when both teams have no more boules, or when the jack is knocked out of play. The winning team receives one point for each boule that it has closer to the jack than the best-placed boule of the opposition.

If the jack is knocked out of play, the end is void unless only one team has boules left to play. In this case the team with boules receives one point for each that they have to play.

The first team to reach 13 points wins.

Further rules

  1. A boule hitting a boundary is dead and is removed from that end.
  2. On a piste marked with strings a boule is dead if it completely crosses the string.
  3. The circle can be moved back in the line of the previous end if there is not room to play a 10 metre end.
  4. The boule can be thrown at any height or even rolled depending on the terrain.
  5. Boules are thrown underarm, usually with the palm of the hand downwards which allows backspin to be put on the boule giving greater control.
  6. Each team should have suitable measuring equipment. In most cases a tape measure is adequate but callipers or other measuring devices may be needed.

Equipment specifications

Jack (cochonnet) and boule


Boules must be made of metal. Competition boules must meet the following specifications:

  • bear engravings indicating the manufacturer's name and the weight of the boule.
  • have a diameter between 70.5 and 80 mm.
  • have a weight between 650 and 800 g.
  • not be filled with sand or lead, or be tampered with in any way

In addition, a boule may bear an engraving of the player's first name or initials.

Choice of boule

The diameter of the boule is chosen based on the size of the player's hand. The weight and hardness of the boule depends on the player's preference and playing style. "Pointers" tend to choose heavier and harder boules, while "shooters" often select lighter and softer boules.

Leisure boules

These boules do not meet competition standards but are often used for "backyard" games. They are designed to suit all ages and sexes, and can be made of metal, plastic or wood (for play on a beach, for instance).

Competition jacks

Competition jacks must meet the following specifications:

  • made of wood or of synthetic material
  • carry the maker's mark and have secured confirmation by the F.I.P.J.P. that they comply exactly with the relevant specification.
  • have a diameter of 30mm (tolerance + or - 1mm).


A successful pétanque team has players who are skilled at shooting as well as players who only point. For obvious reasons, the pointer or pointers play first – the shooter or shooters are held in reserve in case the opponents place well. In placing, a boule in front of the jack has much higher value than one at the same distance behind the jack, because intentional or accidental pushing of a front boule generally improves its position. At every play after the very first boule has been placed, the team whose turn it is must decide whether to point or shoot. Factors that count in that decision include:

  1. How close to the jack the opponents' best boule is,
  2. The state of the terrain (an expert pointer can practically guarantee to place within about 15 centimeters if the terrain is well tended, not so if it's rocky or uneven), and
  3. How many boules each team has yet to play.

A team captain, in an idealized game, requires his pointer to place a boule reasonably close in approach to the jack (paradoxically, in competition, the first pointer sometimes aims not to get so close to the jack that the opponents will inevitably shoot their boule immediately). They then visualize an imaginary circle with the jack as its centre and the jack-boule distance as radius and defend that circle by any legitimate means.

Glossary of special terms

Like any sport, petanque has its own special vocabulary. The following are a list of common phrases with explanations.

  • To have the point
To have one or more boules placed closer to the jack than those of the opponent(s).
  • Pointing
To throw one's boule with the intent of stopping near the jack (also known as placing).
  • Shooting
To throw one's boule at one of the opponent's boules to knock it out of play. This is often done when the opponent has pointed his/her boule very close to the jack.
  • Lob
To throw one's boule in a high arc so that when it lands it only rolls minimally.
  • À carreau
A special feat in which the shooter knocks the opponent's boule out while leaving his boule at or very near the point of impact (pronounced car-o).
  • To fanny (mettre fanny in French)
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. More often, the team which made "fanny" has to offer a beverage to the winning team (see the French popular expression "Fanny paie à boire !").
  • To do the bec (faire le bec, meaning "to give a light kiss")
Targeting one of your boules already in play and knocking it toward the jack.
  • Game on the Ground
Meaning one team is lying in a match-winning position while an end is still in progress and will win unless their opponents change the situation.

Image gallery

See also


  1. ^ Marco Foyot, Alain Dupuy, Louis Almas, Pétanque - Technique, Tactique, Etrainement. Robert Laffont, 1984.
  2. ^ Marco Foyo, Alain Dupuy, Louis Dalmas, Pétanque - Technique, Tactique, Entrainement, Robert Laffont, 1984.
  3. ^ Marco Foyo,op. cit. pg. 16
  4. ^ See Marco Foyot, Pétanque. The French version of the Wikipedia says his name was Jules Hugues, known as 'Le Noir,' but gives no citation. Another version mentioned by Foyot says the game was invented by the brother of a famous player who had lost his legs in his accident. Seeing that his brother was unhappy about being unable to play, he invented a variation of the sport with the player in one place, and a shorter field.
  5. ^ The rules used in this section are taken from Official Rules of the Game of Petanque by Mike Pegg et al.

External links

International pétanque governing bodies

General petanque links

Simple English

, France]] Petanque is a game played in France by many people. It is played on a smooth surface. The game is played between two teams. Each team has three players. At the start of the game, a small ball is thrown. Each player stands in a circle and tries to throw a larger ball so that it lands close to the small ball. The winning team is the team that has the most big balls close to the little ball.

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