Bocce on the Net

Since I can't find any other bocce resources on the Net, I'll just have to put up what I know about the game and what I can glean from the rule book. So, all you folks who've e-mailed me over the last couple of months, here ya go!

Bocce has been around since the Roman Empire and conjures visions of old Italian men wiling away warm Mediterranean afternoons discussing politics and drinking red wine. I'm neither old nor Italian, but I have wiled away many an afternoon with friends discussing politics and drinking beer while playing bocce ;-)

Bocce is closely related to lawn bowling. To the best of my knowledge, the biggest difference is that bocce is played on a hard-surface court with a backstop at each end, while lawn bowling is played on grass with a relatively free-form "court". By this definition many folks are lawn bowling since very few constructed bocce courts exist in the U.S.

The following set of rules are condensed from the official guide published by the International Bocce Association. Many variations exist, and I play a very relaxed set of rules in keeping with tradition. For tournament play, consult the official guide (see end of document).

The Courts

For lawn bowling, you don't really use a court. Just choose any space of lawn that's large and reasonably level. Then step off about 20 adult paces and use that as a good playing distance. For bocce:

  1. Backstops are placed 60 feet apart.
  2. Backstops are 12 feet wide with sides 4 feet long.
  3. Backstops and sides must be at least 4 1/2 inches high.
  4. A foul line is marked out 10 feet from each backstop.
  5. Court surface between backstops can be stone-dust, dirt, clay, grass, or artificial surface.
    4 ft
   +----      |                                 |      ----+
   |          |                                 |          |
   |          |                                 |          |
12 |          |                                 |          |
   |          |                                 |          |
ft |          |                                 |          |
   |          |                                 |          |
   |          |                                 |          |
   +----      |                                 |      ----+
       10 ft
   <------------------------- 60 ft ----------------------->


Two sizes of balls are used to play bocce. The balls are usually made of a tough, composite material like small bowling balls (without the finger holes). The target ball is called the pallina or pallino and is about 2.25 inches in diameter. The team balls are called bocce's and are about 4.25 inches in diameter. Four bocce's are used for each team and are color-coded by team. The pallina can be white, cream, or yellow but contrasts in color with the bocce balls.

The Rules

  1. Teams can consist of from 1 to 4 players on each side.
  2. When multiple team members are present, a playing rotation is maintained throughout the game.
  3. The first player (choose by coin toss or whatever), throws the pallina into the opposite court. That player also rolls the first bocce ball. The idea is to get as close to the pallina as possible. It doesn't matter if you hit the pallina, as long as you don't knock it out of the court. If that happens, it must be re-tossed by the opposing team.
  4. Now the opposing team throws until they get a ball closer to the pallina. This is called getting "inside" your opponent's ball.
  5. Play then returns to the first team who must try to get a ball "inside" that ball.
  6. In each case, throwing by each team continues (in rotation) until a ball gets "inside" or all four balls are tossed.
  7. The remaining balls of the opposing team are then rolled to try to get inside any opposing balls for points.
  8. For "official" play,1 and 2 player teams play to 12 points. 4 player teams play to16 points. For casual play you can go to 21 and, optionally, a "win by 2 points" rule can be used.


Scoring is done after all bocce balls are thrown by both teams. There is no minimum distance to the pallina. One point is awarded for each ball that is closest to the pallina and "inside" of any opponent's ball. Therefore, at least 1 and as many as 4 points may be awarded to a team in each frame.


This is where experience and skill really pay off in bocce. There are a bunch of tactics, both offensive and defensive, that can be employed to out-manuever your opponent. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Spot your ball directly in front of the pallina. Although this often invites a bomb (see next), it makes it difficult for your opponent to get around your ball and be closer.
  2. "Spocking" or bombing. This involves intentionally knocking your opponent's ball away from the pallina. If this is done with skill, you can end up with your ball closest to the pallina while your opponent's ball rolls down the neighbor's driveway :-)
  3. You can also spock the pallina if you wish to move it away from your opponent's ball and against the other three balls that you've carefully positioned in previous rolls.
  4. Sometimes you have to sacrifice. If an opponent's ball is in a solid position against the pallina, you can spock it out of contention, taking your ball with it. The starting team must now re-establish the point ball which (hopefully) will be in a better position for you to get inside.
  5. If you're playing on a bocce court with backstops and sides, all kinds of bank shots are possible, making ball placement more critical. Ideally, you knock the pallina into a corner and surround it with your balls.
If you would like more information, you can contact:

International Bocce Association
P.O. Box 170
Utica, NY 13503-0170

U. S. Bocce Federation
920 Harbor Drive
Martinez, CA 94553

Author: John A. Lock -
ISP of choice: Mindspring Enterprises