Petanque is the perfect combination of a fun game and beach-lounging. While it’s almost a national sport in France, not everyone knows what petanque is, and how fun it can be.
Petanque can be played recreationally and professionally, but, either way, it’s known to bring out the competitive streak in people. Petanque boules is a comprehensive game that's easy to learn and even easier to enjoy. If you’re still wondering what it is — keep reading, we’ll break it down for you.
Petanque game rules are simple. The primary objective is to throw a “boules” (a metal ball that’s been hollowed out) as close to the “jack” as you can. The “jack” is the target, and it’s a small wooden ball.
This is a game best played in two threesomes. Each team has three members who compete with two boules balls each. The main goal is to get as close to the jack as possible, but petanque isn’t just a game of precision. It also requires excellent concentration and strategizing on a team level.
A coin toss decides the starting team. Once we have the starting team, a member of that team throws the jack in any direction, so that it’s around 20 ft away. The players from opposing teams throw the boules balls alternately from an 18-inch circle that’s approximately 20ft away from the jack.
Whoever gets their boules ball closer to the jack, wins the point. The first toss in each team is usually trying to get your boules balls as close to the jack as possible, but you can later throw them, so you hit the opposing team’s boules ball, thus winning a point. The game ends once one of the teams scores 13 points.
Both teams throw their boules balls, so they get close to the jack. The closest boules balls get a point each. If the second team doesn’t manage to throw their boules balls closer to the jack than the first toss of the first team, then they toss boules balls again until they manage to get closer or run out of boules balls.
If one team runs out of boules balls, the other side has the right to throw all of theirs consecutively. The points are counted after all the boules balls are thrown. The team with a boules ball closest to the jack wins — that’s a winning boules ball. Furthermore, the winning team gets a point for each boules ball that is closer to the jack than the corresponding boules balls from the other side. There’s only one winning team per round, and the losing team doesn’t score any points.
Petanque obstacles are any irregularities in the terrain that might hinder the players from throwing their boules balls close to the jack. Barriers are any bumps in the ground, stones, three trumps or roots, and anything else that could cause a boules ball to bounce back. There are two types of obstacles:
These are any irregularities that might cause the player to deviate from the standard throwing form. The throwing circle must be at least 6.5ft away from any obstacle, and the jack has to be thrown at least 3.2ft away from any obstruction.
Pointing obstacles are any obstructions, like terrain irregularities or walls, that invade the area around the jack.
Petanque game rules say that the throwing circle must be 18 inches in diameter. During the shot, the player must never leave the throwing circle until his boules ball hits the ground. Furthermore, both feet have to be on the ground during the shot. If a player steps on the circle line, out of the throwing circle, or lifts one of their feet — that’s a foot fault.
If a player makes a foot fault, the umpire can give them one of three cards:
These penalties can be issued for following faults as well:
Now, you might be wondering how is petanque different from bocce. While it’s true that they are similar, they indeed aren’t the same.
Petanque is a French game, while bocce is Italian. We know, that doesn’t seem like such a difference, but there are severe discrepancies between these boules games. Firstly, bocce usually has teams of two or four people.
On the other hand, as mentioned, petanque can be played head-to-head, in teams of two, and in groups of three. Different team sizes also mean a different number of balls at one’s disposal. Bocce has two or four balls per team, while petanque has two, three or six.
Apart from those, more discrepancies determine how is petanque different from bocce:
Please read our how to play bocce ball guide to learn more about bocce.
Strictly speaking, there is no difference between petanque and boules. In fact, the full name of the game is petanque boules, since it’s technically a game within the boules category of boules sports.
“Boules” refers to any sport or a game that involves balls. Aside from petanque and bocce, boules sports also include the raffa, crown green bowling, boule lyonnaise, and lawn bowls.
We might look at petanque as a simple game, given that it requires nothing more than a field and some steel balls. However, the petanque artisans have transformed this game into an art form. What’s more, there are different styles and strategies that you can choose from to achieve the perfect petanque form.
Although there isn’t a single, perfect way to play this game, petanque enthusiasts and professionals all have a strategy they favor.
Stick Your Left Arm Back for Balance
This will keep you balanced when you throw your ball. However, be careful of the foot fault — when we are in this position, we tend to lift our left leg. That’s a foot fault, and it will bring you a warning and a penalty.
Keep Your Back Straight
To counter the need to lift your left leg when you balance your left arm, keep your back straight.
Hit the Jack with Your First Throw
This is one of the most common strategies — it’s both offensive and defensive. When you aim for the jack, your first ball will be very near it while simultaneously blocking your opponent’s approach.
Protect the Far End
If you only have one ball left, while your opponents have several, then you might want to consider this strategy. Aim for the back of the field — behind the jack. That way, if your opponent aims in front of the jack and hits it with their next shot, they will be bringing the jack closer to your ball.
Crouching Isn’t Always the Best Option
Throwing the ball from a crouching stance is a good strategy. However, it isn’t always applicable. The crouch is an excellent stance to roll the ball from, but it isn’t that great for a High-Lob shot.
Shooters vs. Pointers
You can throw your ball as close to the jack as you can — this is called pointing. Furthermore, you can aim at the balls of your opponents, to knock them away from the jack — this is called shooting.
Circle the Jack
This strategy involves surrounding the jack with your balls. However, if you find yourself in the opposite position, with the opposing team’s balls surrounding the jack, the only option you have is to shoot directly for the jack.
Generally speaking, there are two different ways to hold petanque boules. You can go for a:
The vise grip involves grasping the ball firmly in your palm. You can achieve that by placing the ball at the center of your palm, curling your fingers together, and then locking your thumb over your index finger. The vise grip is very firm. Therefore, the ball will not fall out when you point it toward the ground.
The cradle grip includes placing the ball slightly of center — so that it rests on your fingers. Curl the fingers to get a loose grip on the ball, and don’t turn it over, as it will fall from your hand.
The petanque game rules allow the players to throw the ball any way they wish. However, the way you throw your ball depends on the way you hold it.
For a perfect throw, you have to have the right balance and stance. There is no recommended stance — you can throw the ball with your feet gathered, or you can take a small step forward with your left or right foot (depending on your throwing arm).
Once you got your balance right, you need to aim the ball. Your arm should align perfectly with your target, be it the jack or opponent’s balls. Swing your arm backward and then forward, toward your goal. Keep the arm straight and release the ball once the arm reaches chest level. However, don’t forget to follow through — don’t stop the arm motion there, keep the arm moving even after you release the ball until it reaches eye level.
There are different types of throws:
If you have an obstacle in the way or want to apply strategies other than knocking your opponent’s balls out of the way, you can try to put a spin on your throw. However, keep in mind that a turn to the right is very difficult for right-handed people, and vice versa.
To spin a ball, release it before your arm reaches the throwing point. If you want to spin the ball to the right, you should finish your throw with your thumb pointing downwards. Contrary, if you wish to spin to the left, complete the throw with an upward pointing thumb.
You should choose the ball size based on the size of your hand. It should rest comfortably in your hand.
Typically, the petanque boules weigh 1.5 pounds and are around 3 inches in diameter. More precisely, the diameters range from 2 ⅜ of an inch to 3 ⅛ of an inch. Weight is also variable — based on the size of the ball, it can weigh around 1.4 to 1.8 pounds. Meanwhile, the jack is about 1.25 inches in diameter.
With time, your balls can lose weight. All that throwing around and rolling on the ground will shave off some of the weight. It’s essential that the ball hasn’t lost more than 15 grams of its original weight — otherwise, you can’t use it.
A typical petanque ball set has 6 “boules” and one or two “jacks.”
The petanque court is typically 13 feet wide and 50 feet long. It’s usually a flat, open space. However, it isn't as perfectly smooth as the bocce field — which is one of the answers to the question “How is petanque different from bocce?”
If you live in a dry, warm climate, then you probably don’t even need to build a court. You can take your pick, as any piece of flat, dry land will do the job.
However, if you live in a damp area, or want a court without too many obstacles, it’s best to build it yourself. When making a court yourself, it’s best to do it with materials that will facilitate draining.
You start your project by removing the grass and loose soil or leveling soil if your terrain is unleveled in the area you chose. Then, build and place a wooden bindery around the entire court. To cover your court, you can use granite, rock dust, or sand.
Sometimes, you’ll need to add drainage pipes, which requires a lot of digging, but leaves your curt relatively dry even after torrential downpours.
It’s true that you can play petanque on any terrain. However, grassy fields or smooth surfaces like bocce courts aren’t recommended. Grass slows down the balls, and it’s really hard to roll them. Furthermore, grass often has hidden turfs that are hard to see. Therefore, you might have trouble avoiding obstacles given that you can’t see them.
The beauty of petanque is that you can play it anywhere. You can enjoy it in a park, on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete, but you can also play it on sand or just on the non-grassy ground.
However, the best surface for playing petanque is definitely the gravel. Gravel provides friction while also allowing the ball to roll semi-smoothly over it. The most significant thing is that the surface is dry and that it can get easily drained (both qualities noticeable in the gravel).
The cost of building your petanque court varies depending on the materials you want to use, and the overall quality of the court. Therefore, when you consider every factor, a petanque court could leave you several hundred or several thousand dollars shorter.
Now, here’s a question that bothers many of the novices — how do you actually know which ball is closer to the jack? Do you just ballpark it? Do you just do a visual inspection and make your best guess?
The answer is both yes and no. Of course, some points can be called based on a visual inspection alone. However, that’s not always the case. If the call is too close to make with the naked eye, you can use various methods of measurement. Traditionally, petanque players used a piece of rope or two sticks to measure the distance from the ball to the jack.
Nowadays, there’s no need for that. With accurate precision, a simple measuring tape will be your trusty friend when it comes to calling points. However, the best way to use it is to ignore the numbers and merely use length for comparison.
The beauty of the petanque is that it’s a very social game. Players like to talk and socialize while playing. Therefore, sometimes the games can drag out, and last for hours. However, that’s not the case in competitions and tournaments.
Furthermore, there are short games and games with a fixed time that last around 30 to 40 minutes each.
Although typically a game of the French, Americans also love petanque. In fact, there are over 30 thousand people playing petanque on a regular basis. Of course, only a small number does it professionally. Ever since the French brought it over in the early 1900s, petanque has had a steady following of passionate fans.
Like all boules games, petanque has a rich history.
Petanque dates back to the ancients — ancient Grecians, Romans, and Egyptians all had their versions of petanque.
However, modern petanque, the game we know and love today, originated in France, in the 19th century. Originally, petanque was simply an offshoot version of boule lyonnaise, created as a sort of a response to a challenge mother nature sometimes throws at us. The inventor, Ernest Pitiot adjusted the length of the field and the stance (both feet on the ground) to accommodate his friend, Jules Lenoir, and his rheumatism-ridden limbs.
Of course, when we play, we always strive to be the best that we can. Therefore, it’s only natural to look at the stars - or in this case, the greatest petanque players ever. Currently, it seems that the French still reign over the petanque, as players like Henry Lacroix and Thierry Grandet lead the scoreboards in every competition.
However, there are also some famous people who enjoy a game of petanque — Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel, Martha Stewart and Brigitte Bardot, to name a few.
While it might be difficult to pronounce for English speakers, petanque is actually a relatively simple name. It comes from the words “pieds tanqués” which literally means “planted feet.” Therefore, the clue is in the name - don’t lift your feet off the ground while playing petanque!
Petanque game rules are versatile, and there's a significant number of them. Therefore, to run a petanque tournament, you need to know them all by heart. Or at least the umpires do.
Petanque boules tournaments vary in size and form. For example, you have to make decisions about the:
Furthermore, you have to set a date and notify potential contestants while leaving them enough time to respond to your invitation. Not to mention, you also need to think about the duration of the tournament — how long it will last, how many games each team will play, how much time per game, etc.
What’s more, based on these factors, you’ll also have to choose a venue large enough to support your entire invite list, and organize the tournament so that everyone is taken care of and not left wandering around.
Petanque is a beautiful game. Even though it has a reputation that only senior citizens enjoy it, that’s very far from the truth. Among us, passionate petanquians, there are men, women, and children of all ages.