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  1. What is petanque?

  2. History of the game

  3. The game

  4. Strategy

  5. Equipment specifications

  6. Glossary of special terms


  1.   What is Petanque ?

    In Hakaniemi, Helsinki

Petanque (pronounced pe.tank in French) is a form of boules game where the goal is to throw metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet (jack). The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel, but can also be played on grass or other surfaces. Similar games are bocce and bowls.

Pétanque is generally associated with southern France, particularly Provence, whence it originates. It is the most played sport in Marseille. 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). The FFPJP is the 4th-largest sporting federation in France. These licensed players play a more competitive form of Pétanque known as Pétanque Sport.

    Next to the beach at Nice, France
    Next to the beach at Nice, France


  2.   History of petanque

Pétanque is reputed to have been invented in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseilles as a less physically-demanding form of jeu provençal. Physical effort was reduced by shortening the length of the pitch by roughly half and replacing a moving delivery with a stationary one. The name is derived from the term pés tanqués, which in the Provençal language means "stuck feet", because in Pétanque the feet have to remain fixed together within a (small) circle. It is of interest that this also means that handicapped people in wheelchairs can compete without any disadvantage. Pétanque has become so popular that the term Jeu de Boules (game of balls) is often used to refer to it, even though Pétanque is only one of several variants of boules game and one of the newest. Many French villages have a special stadium for the game called a Boulodrome, most often dedicated to pétanque.

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 will host 2007 championship. Fifty-three countries participated in 2004 and the number is growing every year.


  3.   Rules of the game

The game is always played in teams. In competitions there are three different configurations:

  • three players per team (two boules per player), called triplets
  • two players per team (three boules per player), called doublets
  • one player per team (three boules per player), called singles

The boules are made of metal and weigh between 650 g and 800 g, with a diameter of between 70.5 mm and 80 mm. The jack is made of wood or synthetic material and has a diameter of between 25 mm and 35 mm.

The playing area should be at least 15 meters (49 ft) long, by 4 meters (13 ft) wide.

A player from the team that wins the toss starts the game by drawing a circle on the playing field (35 to 50 cm in diameter). Both feet must be inside this circle, touching the ground, when playing. The player then throws the jack to a distance of between 6 and 10 metres from the starting circle. The jack must be visible and at least 1 metre from any obstacle or boundary, otherwise it must be thrown again.

A player from the team that wins the toss then plays the first boule, trying to place it as close to the jack as possible. Then the opposing team must get closer to the jack and keeps playing until they succeed. When they do, it is back to the first team to do better, and so forth.

A player may choose to 'point' a boule (get it as near as possible to the jack) or 'shoot' it (attempt to displace another boule). When one team runs out of boules, the other team plays their remaining boules. When all boules have been played, that is the end of a 'round', and the winning team scores a point for each boule that is nearer to the jack than the opposing team's nearest boule.

Displacing the jack with a boule is allowed. It is an advantageous (albeit dangerous) play for a skilled player late in a round, when all or most members of his team have played long.

The team that wins a round starts the next one, and a new circle is drawn where the jack ended up in the previous round.

If a boule completely crosses any of the predetermined boundaries, it is considered dead and cannot be scored. Likewise, if the jack is moved and subsequently completely crosses a boundary, the round is scratched and the jack is thrown again. If only one team has boules remaining to throw when this occurs, they receive points for every unplayed ball. Accordingly, the (extremely difficult) play of deliberately shooting out the jack is a winning gambit in some circumstances.

A complete game is usually played up to 13 points.


  4.   Strategy

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 six inches 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 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.


  5.   Equipment specifications

  General specifications
  • Boules: made of steel with diameters ranging from 70.5 to 80 mm, and weights ranging from 650 to 800 grams.
  • Jacks: made of wood or of synthetic material, having a diameter ranging from 25 to 35 mm.

Competition boules must meet the following specifications (according to the International Federation of Petanque and Provencal Game):

  • forged of metal.
  • have a diameter between 70.5 and 80 mm.
  • have a weight between 650 and 800 g.
  • bear engravings indicating the manufacturer's name and the weight of the boule.

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 boule

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

  Competition jacks

Competition jacks must meet the following specifications (according to the International Federation of Pétanque and Provençal Game):

  • forged of wood or of synthetic material which 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 between 25 and 35 mm.


  6.   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).


To throw one's boule with the intent of stopping near the jack (also known as placing).


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.


To throw one's boule in a high arc so that when it lands it only rolls minimally.

A 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 fanny handy, there is always a substitute picture, woodcarving or pottery so that Fanny’s bottom is always available. Moreoften, the team which made "fanny" has to pay a beverage to the winning team (see the French popular expression "Fanny paye à boire !").

To do the bec 

Intending to stop the boule near the jack by targeting another boule and hitting it.

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.


Source : Wikipedia