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How to Play Pétanque

By Connell Rebecca

A Brief History of Pétanque:

First created in Provence over 100 years ago, even the smallest village now has a spot dedicated to the sport where young and old alike gather to play. It has long since been brought back to our shores by the UK’s French nationals and travelers who found themselves quickly converted to the joys of it.



What exactly is pétanque?

Pétanque is a form of boules where the aim is to throw metal balls (boules) as close as possible to a small wooden ball (le cochonnet or the ‘jack’)

How do you play?

A game of pétanque is played by two teams, of one, two or three players

Pétanque is played with boules and a jack. The steel boules have a diameter between 70.5mm and 80mm, and weigh no more than 800g. The jack is made of wood and must be between 25mm and 35mm in diameter

Both teams toss a coin to choose who goes first.  One player from that team then chooses a starting place and draws a circle in the ground in which to stand (between 35cm and 50cm)

The player then throws the jack, ensuring it is at least a meter away from any obstacles (trees, walls etc)

The same player then throws his first boule – the idea is to get it as close as possible to the jack. He must have both feet on the ground in the circle until his boule has landed

A player from the opposing team then steps into the circle and throws his boule, aiming to get closer to the jack (this is called ‘pointer’) or to knock his opponent’s boule further away (this is known as ‘tirer’)

The boule closest to the jack is then leading

The team that are not leading then continue to throw their boules until they have a leading boule

Once the team has used all its boules, the other team throws theirs, aiming to get closer to the jack

When all boules have been used, points are counted.  The winning team scores one point for each boule nearer the jack than any of their opponents

A player from the winning team then throws the jack from where it was at the end of the previous game and a new game begins

The winners are the first team to reach 13  

How many players do you need?

You need a minimum of two people and a maximum of six people

In a team of three players, each player uses two boules, in a singles game, each players uses three boules and in a team of two players, each player uses three boules     
 Where can I play pétanque?

The game is normally played on hard dirt or gravel, but can also be played on grass or other surfaces

Anything else I should know?

There must never be more than 12 boules on the ground

Boules are thrown underarm, usually with the palm of the hand downward

Measuring equipment is required – usually a tape measure is suitable   

Pétanque is a hugely sociable game and great to play with friends.  Anyone can have a go – so why not pick up some boules and try your luck.  Enjoy!

Even better, why not come and experience all the excitement of the game in proper Southern French style at the Ricard Pétanque Garden Party on Saturday 18th June at the Chelsea Physic Garden?


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