Pétanque descends from one of the oldest games in human history, the archetype of which involves throwing or rolling an object as close as possible to a marker. Pétanque belongs to a family of ball games that developed in the Mediterranean, today called boules in French and bacci in Italian. In 1907 or 1910 depending on whom one chooses to believe, Jules LeNoir altered an older game, called le Jeu Provencale (click here to read about the game) thus inventing what eventually evolved into the modern sport of Pétanque.
Although there are many specific provisions for different situations, (click here to read the official Rules Of The Game) the basic rules of Pétanque are simple. One draws a circle between 35 and 50 centimeters, from which the cochonnet is thrown to between 6 and 10 metres. Players then point or shoot with both feet fixed inside the circle.
The surface might be sand or hard concrete, it might be full of rocks and sticks, or smooth clay and sand. The best players like more technical surfaces ... terrains that have lots of interesting features.
Effective pointers are able not only to roll their boules on smooth surfaces with just the right weight, they are also able to throw the ball high into the air, landing with precision onto a selected landing spot to deliver the boule to the cochonnet. Skilled pointers are also able to spin their boules, from left-to-right or right-to-left, in order to avoid other boules or surface obstacles.
Accurate shooters are able to hit balls at 6 or 11 metres consistently and with equal ease. The best shot is called a 'carreau' where the shooter throws the ball through the air with lots of backspin and 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 and is holding.
The next best shot is called a 'palais', where the shooter's boule knocks the opponent's boule away, while remaining close enough to the cochonnet to count. At the elite level, many games are decided by carreaux and palais, the team making the most win. However good pointing is still a requirement for winning big matches. Games are won by the first player or team to reach 13 points.
Singles are one-on-one games played with three boules per player. Doubles and triples involve six boules per team. Games are divided into what the French call mènes ... what we call 'ends'. Points are tallied on completion of each end, after all of the boules have been played by both teams. The team that has the boule closest to the cochonnet gets one point, plus a point for every other boule that lies closer to the cochonnet than the other team's nearest boule.
The game is governed by another simple rule ... a team has to keep playing their boules until it 'wins the point', that is until one of its boules is closer to the cochonnet than the other team's best boule.
Although Pétanque has few rules, it is strategically quite rich. If your opponent has the point on the ground, your team has to decide whether to point or to shoot to gain or regain the advantage. Such decisions are based on a myriad of factors ... how many boules each team has left ... how likely it is that one can win the point, given the lay of the land and the boules that have already been played ... which player, with what kind of skills, have boules left ... and so on.
If you shoot every ball and make a palais each time, you will score six points. But shooting balls consistently is one of the most difficult things to do in any sport, and missing a ball can give the other team a big advantage. Petanque games typically last between 45 minutes and two hours.
To play a game all that is required are three steel balls and a small wooden ball (the cochonnet). Our club has a large number of 'leisure' boules for beginners to use, and competition boules are available from several sources in New Zealand and are widely available online from manufacturers and distributors.
Only boules that have obtained a seal of approval may be called pétanque competition boules. Every boule in sets of three must be engraved with the manufacturer's trademark, the seal of approval for use in competition, the weight of the boule and a serial number.
A large range of weights and diameters are manufactured to accommodate the various shapes and sizes of players' hands but diameters must be from 70.5 mm to
80 mm, and weights from 650 g to 800 g. They must be manufactured in metal, and be hollow with no ballast. The metals vary in hardness to provide for the different requirements of pointing and shooting.
The two largest boule manufacturers in the world ... La Boule Obut and JB Petanque are both located in the same small village St Bonnet-le-Chateau, south west of Lyon in France. The Obut factory alone manufactures over 300,000 boules each month !
To see how a competition boule is manufactured click here.