Tu Tires ou Tu Pointes? How to Play Pétanque

Classic pétanque GameWith spring underway (even if the weather Gods don’t appear to have gotten the memo) and the summer holidays just months away, we’re being bombarded with glossy magazine covers advertising bikini-body bootcamps and other various, get-yourself-beach-ready how to’s. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to trim down that extra layer of warmth that proved so useful during the winter months. But why not give yourself a break and focus your efforts on a different kind of preparation? When you head for the south of France this summer, will you be pétanque-ready? That’s right. Leave the love handles. Let’s concentrate on the important stuff. My first bit of advice is to never utter the words, “Cherie, tu penses qu’on peut jouer avec les boules de ton père?” I learned this lesson the hard way when I asked this very question after our friends mentioned that they had forgotten their pétanque set. Needless to say, my innocent inquiry was met with lots of laughter and more than a few disturbed looks. Whoops… Let it be said that I realized my mistake as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Unfortunately, it was too late to wrangle them and shove them back in. Now that that first language warning is out of the way, let’s move on to the more technical stuff.


You will need:

A pétanque Set: a complete set consists of…

  • 6 steel boules (If you want to get all technical, each boule should weigh between 650-800 grams and have a diameter  of 70.5-80 mm.
  • 1 wooden cochonnet  (Again, if you’re thinking of going pro, make sure that it is 30mm give or take 1mm)

Optional: Bottle of pastis, the apéritif of choice in the south of France, where the sport originated. There are no technical specifications for the pastis. Homemade or Ricard, it’s your call!

Boules to play Pétanque


Head toward the sunshine, find a plane tree-lined public square with plenty of shade, and draw your circle in the dirt. Seriously! This is one of the greatest things about pétanque. While you can often find an official boulodrome in most French towns and cities, you can play on pretty much any relatively flat, open space. And don’t worry if there are some obstacles (i.e. trees, large rocks) or if the terrain is a bit uneven. It just makes the game a little more interesting. After all, pétanque, unlike its cousin, bocce ball, is a throwing game, not a rolling game.


Pétanque can can be played as singles, doubles, or even triples.

  • Divide into two teams comprised of 1,2, or 3 people per team.
  • If playing singles or doubles, each player gets 3 boules. If playing with 3 people in each team, each player gets two boules.  
  • A coin toss decides which team starts.
  • The starting team draws a circle (30-50cm in diameter) in the dirt. All players must throw their boules with both feet on the ground from within this circle.
  • The first player of the starting team tosses the small wooden ball, the cochonet or jack. The jack must be between 6 and 10 meters away from the circle.
  • The cochonnet-thrower then throws, or rather lobs, his first boule, trying to get it to land as close as possible to the cochonnet. The distinction between “throw” and “lob” is an important one in pétanque. As mentioned before, pétanque is a throwing game NOT a rolling game. The correct way to lob a boule is to hold it in your hand with your palm facing downward and to toss it underhand (palm still facing down, not up as it would be in softball), giving it a little backspin when it leaves your hand.  This manner of throw gives you a lot more control over the ball’s placement.
  • It is now the opposing teams turn to lob a boule. Following this toss, the game proceeds like a game of golf, i.e. the team with the boule the farthest away from the cochonnet continues until a) someone lands a boule closer to the cochonnet than the boule of the other team OR b) they run out of boules.
  • If the two first boules are the same distance from the cochonnet, then the team that played last plays again.
  • Play continues in this manner until everyone has run out of boules.

Game of Pétanque in Manhattan


  • Once all the boules, determine which one is the closest to the cochonnet. Distances can be deceiving so you may want to have a measuring device handy. Once it has been determined whose boule is the closest, that team gets 1 point for each boule that is closer to the jack than the other teams closest boule. Make sense? Teams play until someone reaches 13 points. A member from the winning team throws the cochonnet to beging the next round.


  • While playing boules, you will often hear the phrase, “Tu tires ou tu pointes?” meaning”Are you trying to score or keep the other team from scoring?” If the other team has boule close to the jack, you can try to knock their ball out of the way (tirer). Ideally, your ball would then be the closest. But in many cases, the point is just to knock the ball out of the way regardless of where yours lands. The important thing is that you leave your teammates the chance to get as close to the jack as they can (pointer).
  • As mentioned earlier, it is best to get some backspin on your boule. This helps you control its placement.


We’ve already encountered the famous, “Tu tires ou tu pointes?” Here are some other common phrases associated with  pétanque.

  • Bouchon, petit, têt, gari, cochonet (other words for the small wooden ball). When in doubt, stick to cochonnet. Most of these are regional variances.
  • Faire un biberon, un têtard: Place your boule so that it is touching the cochonnet.
  • Faire un bec: Knock another ball so as to move yours closer to the goal.
  • Faire un palouf: When someone throws a ball too short.
  • Embrasser Fanny, Faire fanny, Être fanny, (Se) Prendre une fanny or Fanny paie à boire: To lose 0 to 13. In the past, the losers of a pétanque match had to kiss the generous butt cheeks of “Fanny,” a female figure represented on a poster or in sculpture. While many pétanque clubs still have a “Fanny” at the clubhouse, it is now more common to see the losing team pay for drinks.
  • Mettre une fanny : Win 13 to 0.

Alors, tu tires ou tu pointes?

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