The International Game

The international game is very different from the bocce most of us hackers are used to.  It is highly structured and a bit complicated until you get the hang of it.  I think I have the hang of it, and will try to put it in plain English here…

{special thanks to Mike & Lois Conti, Joe Giolli, Ron Jacobs, Mike Grasser, Mike Lapcevich, and Danny Passaglia who answered my never-ending questions about the rules}.


First off, the international court has a lot of lines.  One is four meters from the end.  This line is for pointing and raffa hitting.  Raffa is the fast rolling style of hitting as opposed to the aerial volo shot.

For pointing you can have your foot on, but not completely over, the line.  Some players walk forward after releasing the ball to ensure accurate momentum in the proper direction.  Raffa players use a walk or run-up delivery. They also follow through by continuing forward after releasing the ball.  In both pointing and raffa hitting the ball must be out of the player’s hand before s/he crosses the line.

A second line is another three meters forward.  This is the volo line.  Players use a longer run-up approach when they volo, hence the additional distance.

Two meters farther ahead is a third line which is the minimum distance a raffa shot must travel before it first strikes the ground.  In other words, your raffa attempt must be lofted over this third line, then roll the rest of the way to its target.

Finally there is a mid-court line beyond which the first toss of pallino must come to rest to begin each frame.

Let’s call these lines A, B, C, and D respectively.  Down at the other end of the court you have lines A, B, and C as well.

International rule makers don’t want the pallino too close to the sideboards or too near the ends.  Thus, the initial toss of pallino each frame may not come to rest less than 13 cm from either side board or beyond the A line at the court’s opposite end.

The game is called Punto, Raffa, Volo because you can employ all three shots.  There are restrictions though.  The international rules committee decided that hitting an opponent’s ball that is near mid-court is relatively easy for accomplished players, and declared the space between line D and the other end’s line C to be the volo zone.  If you want to hit a ball that rests in that area, you must do so via volo, not raffa.

You may raffa anywhere beyond that volo zone (the greater the distance the tougher the shot) and you may volo anywhere on the court (volo generally is more difficult than raffa). Also, you may raffa the pallino no matter where it lies on the court {the international pallino is tiny – from the stands it looks like a ping pong ball}.

Players who want to hit another ball away must call their shots.  The referee uses chalk to mark the positions of all balls and the pallino.  You must call which ball you will hit and whether you will do so via raffa or volo.  If you declare that you will raffa one ball and hit another by mistake, the Rule of Advantage applies.  That is, your opponent can decide to let the play stand, or put the displaced balls back where they were and remove the raffa attempt from play.

On Saturday one player attempted to raffa his opponent’s ball which was about a foot away from the pallino, but hit his own ball by mistake, driving it to the backboard.  Now there were two blue balls at the end and one white ball still twelve inches away from the object ball.  I guessed that the white team would let the play stand, but they elected to “kill” or “burn” the rolled ball and return the displaced ball.  They didn’t want two live opponent’s balls at the end in case the pallino got redirected there later.

If you call a volo shot, the referee traces an arc 40 cm in front of the ball you intend to hit. Your ball must land within that arc for it to be a valid hit.  If not, the Rule of Advantage applies and the other team may either leave the play as is, or kill the ball and replace all the displaced balls to their previously marked positions.

The trajectory for most volo attempts was lower than I anticipated.  Players tell me that the lower shot doesn’t bounce as high which means you can be a tad short and still hit your target.  Also, the higher the toss the greater the distance the ball travels.  Greater distances make for greater degree of difficulty.

Some rules and points of emphasis…

If you hit the backboard without first hitting another ball, your ball is dead and removed from the court. At one point a doubles team had the point and two balls left.  The other team was out of balls.  Since the pallino was close to the end line where it is difficult to lag without hitting the back wall, player one rolled his ball short (just past the volo zone) so that his teammate could raffa it to the end.

You may not hit the sideboard.  If you do, the Rule Of Advantage Applies.

All balls must be in the rack unless it is your turn, and you are about to roll.  The referee and opponents, by checking the rack, can easily see how many balls are still to be played.

After you roll your bocce balls you are to move to the other end of the court {this lets everyone know that you have no shots left for this frame}.

I was surprised to see that players are allowed to stay on the court while teammates or opponents play their shots.  They might accidentally kick a ball or interfere with play.  Officials counter that all balls are marked and can easily be replaced to their proper positions, and that players stand to the side and closer to the end where the shot is originating from so that displaced balls tend to move away from them, not toward them.

You must ask the referee’s permission to come down court to view the positions of previously played balls.  Fail to do so and you forfeit one ball.

The referee uses a 70 cm tool for measuring and marking (see photos of the week).  If the referee holds this tool straight up (perpendicular to the ground) he’s indicating that you won the point with your last roll.  If he holds it in a horizontal plane, that means you didn’t.

The tool has a sliding section that can be used to measure distances.  Players can ask the referee how far away a ball is and s/he can illustrate the distance by holding the tool up to the players’ view.

Displacing another ball even when you are pointing can create a Rule of Advantage situation too.  If your ball taps another ball causing it to move a distance greater than the length of the tool (70 cm) the rule applies (with these fast-playing surfaces, it doesn’t take much of a hit to move a ball 70 cm).

Moreover, if your ball moved the pallino just a short distance and caromed off to hit another ball and that ball moved more than 70 cm, the other team has the option of putting the pallino back to its original position, but the displaced ball stays put.

Bersaglio – when a ball is within 13 cm of the pallino or when two balls are within 13 cm of each other, a bersaglio exists.  This means you can call your shot and hit either of the two balls to make a legal hit.  Also, you can raffa when there is bersaglio no matter where the balls are.  Because of this sometimes a pointer doesn’t want to get too close to the object ball.  For example, if the ball was 14 cm away and in the volo zone the opponent would have to volo, but if it were 13 cm or closer they could raffa.

Click here for a .PDF file of the International Rules

Have fun!
The Bocce Guy

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