variations of play

In 1995 the Special Olympics World Games were held in Connecticut, and I served as one of the bocce officials. (Four years later the Games moved to North Carolina, and in 2003 we are headed to Dublin, Ireland).


During the rare down time when we weren’t officiating, we played bocce with some of the Connecticut locals.  They insisted that the initial toss of the pill had to come to rest at least 12 inches from the side boards.  If it stopped say, 8 inches or so from the side, one player would give it a gentle kick into legal position (approximately 12 inches from the board) rather than roll it back to the player to try again. They reasoned that this kept the game moving.

The position of the object ball (now in the same general area as the person rolling it intended) is not going to unfairly favor one team or the other. For informal play, this makes a lot of sense to me.

At the North Carolina World Games in 1999 we encountered locals who played a fascinating variation.  They favored teams of four players, each rolling one ball. Furthermore, the balls are marked 1, 2, 3, and 4.  Teams must decide at the start of the game who will be first roller, second, etc.  This order may not be altered during the course of play.  This they claimed partially negated an outstanding player’s skills.  For example, a player couldn’t say Tom, you take this shot.  You’re better at hitting than I am.  The sequence can never be altered.

Another nifty difference to their play was in the hitting.  They never rolled with speed to knock an opponent’s ball away.  They rolled almost as if for point, gently nudging the opponent’s ball out of position and leaving their ball close to the target.

Conventional wisdom is that faster speeds make for truer rolls, but it was hard to argue with the uncanny accuracy we witnessed at Fearrington Village, NC.

Part of me likes this idea that you play the home team’s rules when you visit their court, and they have to play your rules when they come to your park. It’s part of the charm and fascination of the game.  The variations are testimony to the enduring appeal of an activity that evolved in different parts of the world, is played somewhat differently from place to place, yet whose basic idea is the same.  Let’s see who can roll, toss or otherwise deliver their bocce balls closest to the object ball.

And yet another part of me cries out for standardization for everybody so that the game can advance to the level of say, professional bowling. Hey, I like bowling, but bocce has it all over bowling. It has a cerebral aspect that I don’t see in just knocking pins down. If bowling can achieve such a high level, there is no reason bocce can’t as well.

How do you play bocce?  On what surface?  Grass, dirt, gravel, stone dust, artificial surface?  Court or no court?  Do you have a ditch at the ends?  A swingboard to deaden the play of balls rebounding off the back wall?  Side- and end-boards?  Do you play the ball dead off the backboard if your attempt to hit an opponent’s ball misses or does anything go?

Post your comments below.

Mario (The Bocce Guy)

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