Bocce: How to Play & Win Every Time

people playing bocce

The game of Bocce, also known as Bocce Ball and Bocci Ball, is, as the name suggests, a ball sport, one that belongs to the “Boules” family, which means it is closely akin to the British game bowls and the French game petanque. Bocce has its roots in Italy. In fact, the term “bocce” is the plural of the Italian word “boccia,” which means “bowl” in terms of sports.

The game of bocce is played throughout Italy and all of Europe. It is also played widely in areas where Italian migrants settled, including Australia, South America and North America, which includes the United States, where it is played sparingly yet fervently. The game is somewhat similar to American bowling and lawn bowling, although the rules and style of play are very dissimilar to these two sports.

Rules of Bocce and How to Play

Bocce is usually played on natural soil (grass or sand) courts or asphalt courts. The regulation bocce court measures 90 feet (27.5 meters) in length and approximately 8.2 to 13.1 feet (2.5 to 4 meters) wide, although many courts in the U.S. measure roughly 60 feet by 12 feet. Bocce balls can be made of metal, but are more likely to be made from various types of plastics and composite materials. Unlike the balls used to play the sport of American lawn bowling, bocce balls are completely spherical and have no inherent or built-in bias. The game of bocce can pit one player against another, or be played in teams of two, three or four.

At the beginning of a game of bocce, a coin flip is held to determine which player or team will throw the only smaller ball in the game, known in Italy as the “boccino” or more commonly the “pallino.” However, in the United States this smaller ball is usually referred to as the “jack.” The jack, which is a small white ball, is thrown or rolled by the selected player from one end of the court to a zone measuring 16 feet in depth at the far other end of the court. If this first player fails to place the jack, the player on the other team gets a chance. However, when playing teams, every other member of the first player’s team will have an opportunity to place the jack before the honor goes over to the other team.

Regardless of how many people are playing in the game, each side starts with four balls. The object of the game is to roll your ball as close as possible to the jack.

The player or team that initially tried to place the pallino (jack) gets to bowl first. Once the first bowl has occurred, the other player/team has the opportunity to bowl. From that point forward, the side which does not have the ball closest to the pallino has a chance to bowl, up until one side or the other has used all four of their balls. At that point, the other side bowls its remaining balls. The team with the closest ball to the jack is the only team that can score points in any frame. The scoring team receives one point for each of their balls that are closer to the jack than the closest ball of the other team. The length of a regulation game varies from one region to the next, but play is usually continued until one side reaches 7 to 13 points, regardless of how many frames are needed to achieve that total.

Players can roll their balls or throw the ball in the air using an underarm motion. This is usually done as a way to knock either the jack or another ball away to attain a more favorable position and perhaps points for that side. The strategy of bocce can get very intricate when players have enough control over the ball to throw or roll it with a great degree of accuracy.

Tips for Winning at Bocce

There are a number of tips and tricks that can help you excel at the game of bocce. Believe it or not, for such a simple-sounding game, there is actually quite a bit of strategy involved. Here are just a few of the tips and tricks that can help improve your play and increase your overall odds of winning.

A Winning Stance is a Comfortable Stance

A bocce ball can be thrown (underhand) or rolled from either a standing position or a crouching position. If you are more comfortable standing, remember to keep your feet about shoulder’s width apart. If you are a right-handed thrower, you should lead with your right foot as you approach the bowling line, and vice-versa. However, if you are more comfortable throwing from a crouching position—as many professional bocce players are—you should put your right knee down if you are throwing with your right hand and lead with your left foot. The same holds true for left-handed throwers or rollers, only in complete reverse. With this comfortable and winning stance you can develop the consistency you need with a wide variety of shot types.

Develop a Soft Grip

Bocce ball is a game that requires a soft touch. Whether placing the jack or trying to roll or throw your ball as close to it as you can, you will need to develop a consistent pattern of light throwing and rolling. The same soft touch you apply to throwing or rolling the bocce ball should also be applied to your grip. Instead of clutching on to the bocce ball as if you are ready to squeeze the life out of it, you should instead clutch the ball lightly using only your thumb and forefinger to grip the ball. The rest of the ball should be cradled in your hand—like a baby—for control, but for the actual throw or roll of the ball, allow your thumb and index finger to do the bulk of the work to ensure a light and more accurate touch.

Go Deep

So you have won the coin flip and you now have the honor to “set the jack or pallino.” The jack, which as you remember from the rules of the game above, is the small white ball at which all of the players in the game, including you, will be aiming once it’s placed. You may also recall that if you are successful at setting the jack, you will then have the first chance to roll your ball towards it. With all of this information in mind, we strongly suggest you try to set the jack as deep as possible at the other end—close to the backboard if your court has one. Then, after you have set the jack, you will now have a better chance of getting close to it with your subsequent throw. Even better, because you set it so deep, the players on the opposing team will have no chance to get behind you.

Use Backspin for Better Accuracy

As we mentioned in the section entitled “Rules of Bocce and How to Play,” the bocce ball can be rolled or thrown at the jack or pallino. If you choose the latter technique, throwing the bocce ball, the rules state that you must throw using an “underarm motion.” To accomplish this type of throw you essentially have two options. You can throw the ball with your palm under the ball or you can throw the ball with your hand on top of the ball. Both of these types of throws can be accomplished using an underarm motion. If you choose the first technique—throwing the bocce ball with your palm underneath the ball—this hand placement will actually cause what is known as “top spin,” causing the ball to roll out when it hits the court. This type of throw can be strategic in certain situations, but because the ball tends to roll once it hits the court it is difficult to control the speed and accuracy of the ball.

On the flip side, if you throw the bocce ball (using an underarm motion) with your hand on top of the ball, you create what is known as “back spin.” With back spin, the ball will tend to roll out less when it hits the court. In fact, with enough back spin, the ball may even stop or backup when it hits the playing surface. For this reason, shots with back spin tend to be much more accurate than shots with top spin.

Have Fun/Be Relaxed

Bocce ball is a game that was invented by gentleman for gentleman. This does not mean that the game cannot get heated at times in the spirit of competition—it can—but at its very core bocce ball is a game of recreation—a game that brings people together and allows them to have fun and relax, if only for a while. The primary purpose of bocce ball is mild exercise and enjoyment, so never allow the heat of competition to force you into abandoning this primary purpose.

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