HomeBack IssuesInternational RulesBocce VideoSenior GamesVolo Play

Bocce Rules

First off, you need to understand that the bocce that is generally played in the USA is very different from international style bocce. International bocce has very well defined rules that are consistent from one bocce venue and event to another. You can get a pretty good idea of what it is like by viewing pictorials I created - click on the navigational buttons to the left (International Rules and Volo Play). If you are interested solely in the rules more commonly played in the USA, scroll down to "Dozen Steps To The Joy of Bocce" and "Open Rules" below. In international games, referees mark the positions of live balls and, not unlike billiards, players call their shots. If a player attempts a knockaway shot and misses, displacing other balls in the process, those displaced balls may be returned to their original positions (which were previously marked on the court surface).

You can read the Joy of Bocce Weekly issue I wrote about International Rules governing the North American Championships in Highwood, IL (2002) by clicking...

There are two sets of rules approved for international play - Punto Raffa Volo (these are described in the pictorial link above) and Volo. In Punto Raffa Volo rules, the three different shots are allowed (pointing, hitting on the roll, hitting on the fly) if executed according to the regulations, but under Volo rules only the volo and punto shots may be used. In other words, in the Volo game, if you decide to hit, you must loft, not roll your ball at the target. International Volo players generally use metal balls. To learn about the Volo rules click the Volo Play link to the left and read the Joy of Bocce Weekly Volume II Issue 24 by clicking...

The best way to learn the rules, both International Rules and Open Rules is by reading my book which Newsweek called "The definitive guide to the sport." There is an e-book version that you can order from the publisher ($9.95 - no shipping). Order the printed book ($18.45) or the the e-book by clicking...

Now, if you just want the "Readers' Digest" version of the open rules and want to get started right away...peruse this section from my book:

Dozen Steps To The Joy of Bocce

1. Secure a set of bocce balls, a place to play, and some players.
2. Make two equal teams. One-, two- or four-person teams are most common.
3. Toss a coin or otherwise select who will play first.
4. The team that wins the coin toss pitches the pallino and then rolls the first bocce ball, trying to draw as near as possible to the pallino.
5. The starting team stands aside and does not bowl again until the opposing team gets one of their bocce balls closer to the pallino or runs out of bocce balls.
6. Play proceeds in this manner, observing the nearest ball rule. The team with the nearest ball stands aside and waits until such time that the other team has the nearest ball or has used up all its balls in the attempt. Remember - the team that is out plays - the team that is in delays.
7. After both teams deliver all balls, the frame or round is over. Score one point for each ball that is closer to the pallino than the closest ball of your opponent.
8. The team that scores the point(s) starts the next frame by rolling the pallino and the first bocce ball.
9. Games can be played to 11, 12, 15, 16, 21 points, or to any mutually agreeable count. North American Open Rules call for games of at least 12 points.
10. Balls can be tossed underhand or overhand, through the air or bowled along the ground.
11. Think ahead - like chess. Possible strategies include knocking an opponent's ball out of scoring position, redirecting the pallino to a new position, and leaving a ball in front of the pallino to block your opponent's attempt.
12. Have fun with this wonderful and ancient pastime - the best kept secret in sports.

Open Rules

In the USA there are some good international rules players. The United States Bocce Federation (see the navigation button for Related Links) sanctions all players who would represent the country in international play. However, most play in the USA is of the Open Rules type. The problem is that we have not yet standardized these rules. There are some archaic rules that took root years ago that just won't seem to go away. For a discussion of these, see chapter 11 of the second edition of my book, Tournament Play and Rules. It includes the full text of what I have termed North American Open Rules. Below is an excerpt. Or you can purchase the 3rd edition of my book in which I have reprinted the United States Bocce Federation Open Rules.

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.

Home | Back Issues | International Rules
Bocce Video | Senior Games | Volo Play