What makes a winning team at this fascinating game of pétanque? A talented pointeur? An infallible tireur? Yes, often enough either of those ingredients would be enough and both together would be formidable. But what if two teams with equally talented players come face to face... what then?
Watch a good match sometime and I can practically guarantee that, if you concentrate on what's going on, you will see the power of that other ingredient -- strategy.
Over the long term, it is perfectly proper for a player to consider himself a specialist - either a pointeur or a tireur. It becomes a fault, however, when the player specializes too much. There will be times when a pointeur is called upon to shoot, and when a tireur is called upon to place. Specialization is at its best when viewed in the shorter term -- when special skills are put to use as part of a team.
To illustrate this idea, let's consider a really well-played game: an ideal game, in fact, with all players playing perfectly.
Team A begins, with their pointeur placing a boule 40 cm. (16 in.) directly in front of the cochonnet. The first boule should never pass the cochonnet, but should be played short. Why 40 cm. in front?
Team A's strategy is to define a circle centered on the cochonnet with a radius of about 40 cm. that is their terrain. Any opponent boule that enters this terrain will be shot out of the game. The advantage of throwing the first boule is that it gives you the opportunity of setting up this strategy.
Unbeatable, huh? Actually, no. There are two possible counter-strategies for Team B.
The first is patience. They must place every single one of their boules into Team A's terrain and allow them to shoot it out. While this is going on -- and it will happen five times, since Team A has five boules to shoot with -- they should pay attention to where the boules end up. In particular, they must notice when Team A's boule ends up outside the agreed limits of the playing area. If this happens, the boule is foul and it may be removed from the game.
Well, now we come to the endgame. Team A has played all its boules, and that very first boule is still sitting there, 40 cm. in front of the cochonnet. Team B, however, still has one last boule in hand -- and now the advantage is with them. They can either take a certain one point, by placing that last boule close, or -- depending on the disposition of the boules that are way at the back of the playing area, perhaps make more by shooting.
The second counter-strategy is to play for the carreau right away. That first boule placed by team A is then replaced with one of Team B's boules, and the situation is reversed, with the absolutely critical difference that now the team defending the terrain is also the team that will play the last boule. (Note, however, the danger that the cochonnet will also be porté, either creating a whole new game or annulling the present one.)
Now notice something extremely important about this idealized game -- and it applies whether we're talking about doublettes or triplettes. Team A has placed one boule and shot 5. Team B has placed all six of its boules, with the possible exception of the last one. Therefore, it's obvious that this strategy and counter-strategy cannot possibly work if either team had a rigid idea of who was the pointeur and who the tireur.
If that narrative of a game sounds too good to be true -- and I must admit it is well above my own level of play -- I can only assure you that I have seen many games of pétanque played at competition level that approached that ideal very closely. A champion tireur will get nine out of ten. The man (or woman) who can pull off a carreau whenever it's needed has not yet been born, however.
In competition play, there has to be a team captain. Even though an experienced team will agree on strategy 99 times out of 100, somebody has to take the responsibilty of making that 100th decision. In more general terms, it's the captain's responsibility to think ahead and make the best use of all individual skills on the team, seeking to ensure that all six of the team's boules are put to good use.