A tale of open rules


The bocce generally played in North America is very different from the game played in the rest of the world (which is governed by international rules).  International rules are well codified and standardized for two games – 1) punto, raffa, volo and 2) volo.  As described in chapter 12, international rules play essentially removes the element of luck from bocce.  An errant shot often results in balls being returned to their previous positions.  Although groups like the US Bocce Federation vigorously promote the international game, “open rules” are much more widely accepted in the USA.

We open rules players play bank shots off the sidewalls.  We roll raffas like in bowling, the ball not lofted over a pre-determined line, but rolling all the way to its target.  We don’t mark the positions of balls.  We don’t volo much, and a lot of us like that luck is part of our game.

The problem is that there are many differing sets of open rules.  None require marking every ball’s position, but all vary in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Some served a good purpose in their day, but failed to evolve as the game matured on this continent.  For bocce to get to the next level, we need to adopt international rules, or accept a standardized set of open rules, or both.

Over a period of two years, I researched and compared rules from the various groups playing this wonderful game.  The array of variations is astounding.  In some areas they score two points for a “leaner” (ball resting against the pallino).  Some mandate that teammates alternate rolls.  Some even play that if you score in one frame, you must hand the pallino over to the other team to begin the next.  I have a hunch that, if you search hard enough, you might even find players who toss the pallino out last, after all the balls have been played.

I’ve interviewed by phone or in person many of the top players as well as recreational players to get their open rules feedback.  In addition, I used my ezine, The Joy of Bocce Weekly, as a sounding board, soliciting input from subscribers from all over the continent.  Not surprisingly, there was not always agreement among the best players, let alone the backyard, post-barbecue type player.  Still, I have listened, asked questions, listened some more, posed follow-up questions, and finally wrote what I called North American Open Rules.  I claim no affiliation or allegiance to any group.  I’m neutral, like Switzerland.  I’m just a guy, a bocce player, a writer, who loves this game and wants to see it grow.

Many of the differences from one group’s rules to another are minor, and almost any resolution to the discrepancy would accomplish unification, and be acceptable.  A handful of other points are more critical.  A little background follows, then the rationale for some of the North American Open Rules.

First off, when you play at your home or local league, play by any rules you like. Hey, the game is supposed to be fun. Whatever makes the game interesting and exciting for you should be the format you embrace.

Play the backboard live or dead, use 45 degree angle boards, make the winning score 21, mandate that you must win by two points, put in a “skunk” or “mercy” rule.

There is an undeniable charm to playing the “house rules” at the home team’s venue. They’ll play by your rules when they visit your court.  But, if you run a tournament, you might consider the USBF’s Open Rules which have been revised in 2010.

I agree with world-class player Dr. Angel Cordano who says, “I’d like the rules standardized so that we all play the same way, but I’ll play any way at all – I just love to play.”  Heck, a friend of mine gave me an old U. S. Air Force drawing for a 9′ by 60′ bocce court complete with 45 degree angle boards in the four corners.  I’d love to play on a court like this – it would be great fun.  But I wouldn’t want to see this promoted nationally – keep billiards on the pool table.

I thought long and hard about whether I was adding more confusion to the bocce rules debate with my North American Open Rules.  Would I just be adding another set of rules to bewilder people new to the game?  As near as I can figure, I am just about the only person on the continent writing regularly about bocce.  My ezine connects bocce players everywhere.  I feel a kind of moral imperative to make an attempt at codifying open rules.  But let’s be clear – I don’t want to change the way anyone plays in leagues or backyards.  I just want to get the Open Rules standardized for tournament play.

All sports go through a period of evolution and the governing rules do too.  When I brag to “young pups” about what a good college baseball player I was, they chide me with “Weren’t those the days when it was an out if you caught the ball on the first hop?”

Things change.  Sometimes they get better, sometimes worse.  I hope that my discussion of the “North American Open Rules” represented a step in the evolution of bocce rules on this continent.  They may have been helpful in the revising of the USBF Open Rules which now should be considered the standard as the USBF is the governing body of bocce in America.

Good Luck!
The Bocce Guy

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