Introduction: Backyard Bocce

About: Whoever first said "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" obviously never attended a ninja poetry slam.

Bocce ball is a game somewhat similar to outdoor bowling.  According to wikipedia, bocce originated in Italy and bocce is the plural of the Italian word boccia, which translates as "bowl".  Bocce is commonly played across most of Europe, and around the world where Italian immigrants have settled.  We all remember that Sopranos episode where Tony Saprano puts a hit on Sammy Junior after a heated bocce ball defeat.

Here in good ole' Missouri, we don't take the game quite as seriously, but my friends and I enjoy playing and have gotten pretty competitive about it.  In the United States, it's a little more difficult to find actual courts like the ones in the second picture of this step (a public domain image from wikipedia) that would be used for tournament play, so my friends and I mostly play in each other's backyards.  When we first began playing, it was difficult to find good instructions and information on how to play, so I thought I would attempt to document our process a bit.

Step 1: The Bocce Balls

The Pallino- The small ball, often colored white or yellow, which is roughly half the size of the rest of the bocce balls.  The pallino (also can be called a jack) can either be thrown overhanded or underhanded.

Le Bocce- The eight larger balls, there are usually 4 red and 4 green in most sets (blue in these pictures).  The different colored balls are thrown by the different teams.  The like-colored balls are often subdivided into stripes and circles or other markings to determine not only team, but individual(s) who threw them.  Bocce can be thrown or rolled, however they must be released underhanded.

Step 2: Basic Backyard Rules

Bocce can be played with two players, three players, two teams of two, two teams of three or two teams of four.  The number of balls played by each player will depend on how the two teams are made up (or three teams, if there are three players). 

After the teams are in place, arbitrarily decide which team will play the pallino.  Most bocce references say this should be done with the flip of a coin, but often it's easier to just decide who goes first.

You will need some sort of line for everyone to throw behind.  Whomever rolls first will toss the bocce relative to the space your yard allows.  This should be at least 15-20 feet away from the foul line in order to allow decent rolls towards the pallino.  It can be played as far away as your arms and yards will allow (no maximum distance).

Once the pallino is tossed, the same player will toss his first (and possibly only) bocce, trying to get it as close as possible to the pallino.  The next team(s) will then throw their first bocce trying to get closer than the nearest bocce, or alternatively knock opposing bocce away from the pallino, or even knock the pallino away from their bocce ball and closer to one of their own.

After each team has tossed their initial bocce, you need to determine which bocce is the closest to the pallino.  Similar to putting in golf, whichever team(s) are out (further away) must continue to play their bocce until they either get closer to the pallino, or until they are out of bocce balls.

When all teams have played all their bocce, scoring for that frame is recorded.  The closest team recieves a point for their winner, and if any of their other balls are closer than the closest competitor, they get an additional point for each bocce inside their opponent's nearest throw.  Thus, the most a team can score in a single frame is four points, since that is the greatest number of balls any combination of teams will have.  Most bocce games are played to 12 points, and sometimes 15 points for tournaments, however any agreed upon number can be played to.  A little less common is to bowl 12 frames and see who has the most points after that time.

While certainly not required, it's helpful if you have someone play referee who is holding a tape measure.

Step 3: A Frame Start to Finish

The best way to learn bocce is to watch someone else play, or jump right in and have it explained to you while you are playing if you know people who already play.  Here we see some pictures of a frame from a friendly match.  After the main image the rest are in order, see the image notes for tidbits on each throw.  I plan to put together a short video showing a frame to add to this step.

I also found a good video online showing the basics of play:

Step 4: Bocce Strategy

Bocce strategies will vary with the skill level of the players involved.  For example, the top level players will take running approaches to the foul line with their throws.  I still don't really understand why this is, but am pretty sure it has to do more with accuracy than with power of the throw.

However, there are strategies that are just as important for first-time players as they are for seasoned veterans.  The first of these comes with whomever throws the first bocce.  Ideally you want to place this as close as possible to being directly in front of the pallino in order to block the other team from being able to get close to it.

Another important strategy for beginners is to realize that you can spin the ball backwards, forwards, and even sideways to alter the roll of the bocce.  For backyard bocce, I find the backwards spin to be of vital importance- since yards tend to be bumpy, I often throw quite a ways through the air, and use the backspin to help offset this.  Even on grass, bocce have a tendancy to roll a lot further than what beginners think they would.

More advanced bocce players will have developed a second kind of shot- the knock shot.  This consists of throwing the bocce in the air and having it land on the other team's bocce to remove it from the vacinity of the pallino.  I suggest beginners avoid this throw however, because until you are good at it, it is almost always a waste of a throw.  Working on your rolling is far more important for beginners, even if your roll is really more of a toss like mine often is.

When trying to determine how agressive to play consider the score and competition .  If you are ahead (especially later in the game) or are familiar with your competition and think you are the better team, there is less reason to play over-agressively.  Likewise, if you are behind, or think your competition has the advantage, there is less to lose from agressive knocking of the pallino and/or bocce in play. 

Finally, I've found that the distance the pallino is thrown effects the scoring quite a bit.  Really close throws rarely score more than a single point, really far throws leave it more open, and often score two points or so.  Middle distance throws for whatever reason seem to favor the teams that placed the pallino.  If you can place your first bocce right in front, the opposing team will often run out of bocce without beating it or knocking it away.  That leaves you with three balls to roll directly into their nearest ball and knock it away, often leaving your ball where it was if done correctly.  Expect to come away with at least two, and often three points if you can pull this off.

These are kind of my ideas on strategy, specifically for backyard play only.  For example, my "lifted roll shot" simply wouldn't work well in tournament bocce.  In the resources section of the next step there is a superb site for strategy with some of the same ideas, but also with diagrams, problem solving, and even more in-depth strategies than I ever considered before visiting there.

Step 5: Other Bocce Resources

Youtube videos of note:
I thought this one was funny... until it happened to me:
and for the younger crowd:

Around the intertubez:
Wikipedia page:
Good Bocce devoted site:
US Bocce Federation:
Excellent Bocce Strategies:
Bocce Supplies:
Nice Bocce Glossary: