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Pétanque players in Cannes
Pétanque players on the beach in Nice

Pétanque (French pronunciation: ​[petɑ̃k]; Occitan: petanca [peˈtaŋkɔ]) is a form of boules where the goal is to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally "piglet") or jack,[1] while standing inside a starting circle with both feet on the ground. The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel, but can also be played on grass, sand or other surfaces. Similar games are bocce, bowls and (adapted to ice) curling.

The current form of the game originated in 1907 in La Ciotat, in Provence, in southern France. The French name pétanque (borrowed into English, with or without the acute accent) comes from petanca in the Provençal dialect of the Occitan language, deriving from the expression pès tancats [ˈpɛs taŋˈkats], meaning 'feet together'[2] or more exactly 'feet anchored'.

International participation and competition[edit]

The casual form of the game of pétanque is played by about 17 million people in France, mostly during their summer holidays. It is also widely played in neighboring Spain. There are about 600,000 players sanctioned with the Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal ('International Federation of Pétanque and Jeu Provençal'), 375,000 in France with the Fédération Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP, 'French Federation of Pétanque and Jeu Provençal') and some 3,000 in the United Kingdom.

The Pétanque World Championships is an international team competition that takes place every two years,[3] while the main individual tournament, Mondial la Marseillaise de pétanque, takes place every year in Marseille, France, with more than 10,000 participants and more than 150,000 spectators.[4]

Petanque is actively played in many nations with histories of French colonial influence during the last centuries, especially in Southeast Asia, including Laos, north Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Puducherry, India, as well as some parts of Africa, e.g. Madagascar.

In the United States the Federation of Petanque USA (FPUSA) has 1,500 members in 40 clubs, and estimates about 30,000 play nation wide. Another 20,000 or so play in Québec. Additionally, pétanque clubs have arisen in cities throughout the United States in recent years. In the United States, the largest annual tournament is the Petanque America Open, held in November at Amelia Island, Florida.


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 BC. 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.[5]

After the Romans, the stone balls were replaced by wooden balls. In the Middle Ages, Erasmus referred to the game as globurum, but it became commonly known as boules (i.e. '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 forbade the sport to commoners; only in the 17th century was the ban lifted.[6]

Boules player, by Paul Gavarni, 1858.

By the 19th century, in England the game 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 (or boule lyonnaise), 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 provençal around the start of the 20th century are memorably described in the memoirs of novelist Marcel Pagnol.

Pétanque in its present form was codified in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseilles by a French jeu provençal player named Jules Hugues or Jules Lenoir, whose rheumatism prevented him from running before he threw the ball.[7][8] Another origin story, 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 game with the player in one place, and a shorter field; 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 game grew with great speed, and soon became the most popular form of boules in France. the governing body Fédération Internationale de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal was founded in 1958 in Marseille and has about 600,000 members in 52 countries as of 2002.

In the late 1800s, with the introduction of inexpensive mass-produced nails, wooden boules gradually began to be covered with nails, producing boules cloutées ('cleated boules'). The 1920s saw the introduction of hollow all-metal boules (first of bronze-aluminum alloy, then steel), and all-metal balls rapidly became the norm.

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.

Pétanque is not currently an Olympic sport, although the Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules ('World Federation of the Sport of Boules') - which was created in 1985 by three international boules organizations (and has since been joined by a fourth) specifically for this purpose - has been lobbying the Olympic committee since 1985 to make it part of the summer Olympics.[9]

Playing the game[edit]

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 teams, where each team consists of one, two, or three players. In the singles and doubles games each player has three boules; in triples each player has 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 centimeters 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 meters away.

Order of play[edit]

A player from the team that 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.


Play ends, and points may be 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, no team scores 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[edit]

  1. A boule hitting a boundary is dead and is removed from that end.
  2. On a court or 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 meter 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 calipers or other measuring devices may be needed.

Equipment specifications[edit]

Jack (cochonnet) and boule


Competition boules must meet the following specifications set by the FIPJP:

  • be made of metal and be hollow.
  • 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 have been filled with anything (sand, lead, mercury, oil) or tampered with in any way.
  • may bear an engraving of the player's first name or initials.

When purchasing competition boules, a purchaser has a choice of a number of characteristics of the boules, including the size (diameter), weight, and hardness of the boules.

  • A player can choose a boule whose size fits the size of the player's hand.
  • The weight and hardness of the boule depends on the player's personal preference and playing style.
  • Pointers tend to favor smaller, heavier, and harder boules, while shooters tend to favor larger, lighter, and softer boules.

Leisure boules are boules that do not meet competition standards, but are less expensive than competition boules and completely adequate for "backyard" games. Unlike competition boules, leisure boules are a "one size fits all" affair — they come in one weight and size.

The jack[edit]

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).

Playing area[edit]

Pétanque can be played on almost any flat, open space. The ground may be irregular and interrupted by trees or rocks, and the surface is likely to be uneven, with some areas hard and smooth and other areas rough and stony. When an area is constructed specifically for the purposes of playing petanque, the playing surface is typically loose gravel, decomposed granite, brick grog or crushed sea shell. Sandy beaches are not suitable, although light plastic boules are sometimes used to adapt the game for the beach. There is no requirement for backboards or sideboards (as in bocce), but dedicated playing areas are often enclosed in boards or some other structural barrier.

In France, village square, paths in parks, etc. are often used as pétanque playing areas. In addition, many towns have recreational facilities (boulodromes) constructed especially for playing pétanque.

An area where a single pétanque game is played is called a terrain. A playing area is an area where one or more petanque games are being played. At any given time a playing area may be hosting one or more terrains.

For tournaments, a large playing area is subdivided and marked off (typically using nails and string) into rectangular marked terrains so that multiple games may be carried on simultaneously. For tournament play, a marked terrain is a rectangle at least 4 meters wide and 15 meters long.

A marked terrain is also known as a piste. Pétanque terminology varies across languages and countries and the distinction between playing area, terrain, marked terrain, and piste is frequently blurred. For piste, the FIPJP International Rules use the French word cadre, which the FPUSA translates as the English word court and some British and Australian versions translate as lane or pitch. Although a petanque playing area is often referred to as a petanque court, pétanque proponents dislike the word court because it suggests (falsely) that neighborhood play requires an expensive dedicated facility (a pétanque court) in the same way that bocce does. As the Pétanque America website puts it: "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."

In the United States, proponents of pétanque such as author Byron Putman often urge the use of non-dedicated public terrains – public walking paths, playground areas, dirt/gravel parking lots, and baseball infields – as terrains.


Shooters and pointers[edit]

Throwing is divided into two classes — pointing and shooting.

  • To point (aka to place) is to throw a boule with the goal of making it come to rest in a particular spot, often as close as possible to the jack.
  • To shoot is to throw a boule directly at an opponent's boule with the goal of hitting it and knocking it away from the jack.

Players who are skillful enough to shoot effectively are called shooters; players who usually point are called pointers. (The French terms are tireur and pointeur, respectively.) As a matter of strategy, pointers play first and shooters are held in reserve in case the opponents place well.

A boule located in front of the jack is much more valuable than one behind the jack, because a boule in front may (intentionally or accidentally) be hit and pushed closer to the jack. Hence the saying boule devant, boule d'argent — roughly: a ball in front is a money ball.

Throwing a boule[edit]

When throwing the first boule, the goal of the pointer is to place his boule somewhere in front of the jack and reasonably close to the jack — but not too close. If the opposing team has an effective shooter, a first boule that is placed too close to the jack will be wasted. Its proximity to the jack will force the opposing shooter to shoot it immediately.

After the first boule, a player about to throw faces the classic petanque question: "To shoot or to point?" Factors that affect the decision include:

  1. The general situation (e.g. is there an open avenue through which it would be easy to place a boule?).
  2. How close to the jack the opposing team's best boule is.
  3. How many boules each team has yet to play.
  4. How many boules your own team has yet to play.

Generally speaking, for example, it is bad strategy to try to shoot with your team's last boule. If the opposing team has a boule that is kissing the jack, and your team is about to throw its last boule, you don't want to try to shoot the opposing boule. The better strategy is to "limit the damage" by placing your team's last boule so close to the jack that the opposing team is limited to winning only one point.

Throwing the jack[edit]

The team that throws the jack may throw it in any legal direction and to any legal distance.

Strategic considerations involved in the throw of the jack include:


  • Observe the opposing team's shooter and choose a distance at which he or she seems less comfortable.
  • If the opposing shooter seems to be able to shoot effective at both long and short distances, alternate long and short throws.
  • Consider the distance at which your own shooter is most comfortable. Often, the shooter on a team throws the jack, so he can place it at a distance at which he is comfortable shooting.


  • Consider the abilities of the pointers on both teams. Aim for a location on the terrain that your own pointers favor, or that might be difficult for the opposing team's pointers.
  • When playing against a left-handed pointer, try to exploit the fact that certain locations may be difficult to reach for left-handed pointers.
  • In a game that has gone back and forth over the same terrain, surprise changes — throwing the jack to a new position on the terrain — can throw off an opposing pointer.

Glossary of special terms[edit]

  • To have the point
A team is said to "have the point" if one of its boules is closer to the jack than any of the opposing team's boules. A team that has the point is basically in a winning position, so the team that does NOT have the point throws the next boule and attempts to gain the point.
  • "Boule devant, boule d'argent"
Roughly "A ball in front is a money ball". This maxim reminds players that when pointing, the most valuable place for a boule is in front of the jack. In that location, it prevents opponents from throwing directly toward the jack, and hitting it will push it even closer to the jack.
  • to point
To throw one's boule with the intent of stopping near the jack (also known as placing).
  • to shoot
To throw one's boule at an opponent's boule (or at the jack) in an attempt to knock it out of play. When the opposing team has a boule positioned very close to the jack, often the best strategy is to attempt to shoot it. A team in a desperate situation may attempt to save itself by shooting the jack out of bounds.
  • to lob
To throw one's boule in a high arc so that when it lands it only rolls minimally.
  • carreau
(pronounced Karro). A shooting feat in which the opponent's boule is knocked out, and the thrown boule exactly (or very nearly) takes its place. Basically, the perfect shot. When shooting an opponent's well-placed boule, a carreau both knocks the opponent's boule away from the jack, and replaces it with the thrower's own boule.
  • To fanny (mettre fanny in French)
To win a game without the opposing team scoring any points; a shutout game. When a player loses 13 to 0, he is said to fanny ("il est fanny", he's fanny, or "il a fait fanny", he made fanny) and must kiss the bottom of a girl named Fanny. Virtually everywhere in Provence where pétanque is played, you will find a picture, woodcarving, or pottery figure of a bare-bottomed lass named Fanny. Often, the team that made "fanny" has to buy a round of drinks for the winning team ("Fanny paie à boire!", "the fanny pays for the drinks!").
  • 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.

Image gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The cochonnet is also sometimes called a bouchon (literally "little ball", from the Occitan bochon) or le petit ("the small one").
  2. ^ Marco Foyot, Alain Dupuy, Louis Almas, Pétanque - Technique, Tactique, Etrainement. Robert Laffont, 1984.
  3. ^ http://www.fipjp.com/en/world-championships
  4. ^ http://www.flyprovence.com/en/Mondial_La_Marseillaise_a_Petanque_-agenda-sports-215-13.html
  5. ^ Marco Foyot, Alain Dupuy, Louis Dalmas, Pétanque - Technique, Tactique, Entrainement, Robert Laffont, 1984.
  6. ^ Marco Foyo,op. cit. pg. 16
  7. ^ Giol, Charles (November 2011). "La pétanque". Historia. 
  8. ^ See Marco Foyot, Pétanque
  9. ^ History of the FIPJP at the FIPJP web site.

External links[edit]