The Laws of the Game of Eton Fives
(Revised in October 1981)
The court is enclosed on three sides and open at the back. The 'front wall' is the wall facing the player, and the 'right-hand' and 'left-hand' walls are the walls
on his right hand and left hand respectively.
The 'step' is a shallow step dividing the court into two portions, an 'upper' or 'top' and a 'lower' or 'bottom' 'court' or 'step'. The vertical face of the 'step' is
not reckoned as part of the floor of the court.
The 'pepper-box' is a buttress projecting from the left-hand wall. With the 'step', it encloses a small square portion of the floor called 'Dead Man's Hole'.
The 'line' is the lower angle of the ledge running across the front wall, at a height of 4 feet 6 inches.
A vertical line is marked on the front wall at a distance of 3 feet 8 inches from the right-hand wall.
Where the context so permits a reference to the masculine shall be taken to include a reference to the feminine. A reference to the singular shall be taken as a reference to the plural.
The ball must in every case be hit up; i.e. it must be returned against the front wall on or above the line. Any ball which drops on the top of any of the walls or
coping, or which hits any part of the roof or the sides of the court above the coping, or which touches the ground first outside the court, before the first bounce,
except in the case of a Blackguard (see Law VI (b)) other than at Game Ball (see Law XI), or touches any person or object outside the court is out of court and counts against the striker. The sides and lower face
of the coping shall be in.
The ball must be fairly hit with a single blow of the hand or wrist, and must not touch any other part of the striker's person under penalty of losing the stroke.
It must not be caught, carried, or held in any way, except to serve or to stop a ball as provided for in Law VI.
A ball taken with both hands or with a cupped hand may often be technically held, in which case the striker should declare a hold and allow the point to go against him.
Position of the Players
The game is played by four persons, two against two. Thus, if A and B (with first service) play C and D, A, the server, should stand in the upper court and his side is
said to be up. C should stand in the lower court to return the service, and his side is said to be down. B and D also stand in the lower court, B having choice of position.
Choice of First Service
The choice of first service shall be decided by one of the home side tossing a coin or placing the ball behind his back in one of his hands and one of the opposing side calling.
The first server in each game also cuts first (see Law VI for definition of, and rules for, the first cut) for his side after he and his partner have been sent down; thereafter the
player who has the second hand of a service cuts first. If in the first game A serves first and C cuts, then in the second game C serves first and A cuts; in the third game B serves
first and D cuts; in the fourth game D serves first and B cuts; and in the fifth game A again serves first and C cuts.
The ball when served must hit first the front wall above the line and then the right-hand wall, and must fall in the lower court. The player who is cutting need not return
the first or any service until he gets one to his mind, and if he fails to return the service above the line no stroke is counted. A service which goes out of court carries no penalty and
may be taken by the player making the first cut.
The First Cut
(a) Only the player who is cutting may return the service, and he may do so only between the first and second bounce. This return is called the 'First Cut'. He must return it so that
it should hit either (1) first the right-hand wall and subsequently the front wall above the line; or (2) first the front wall above the line between the right-hand wall and the vertical line
marked on the front wall. In both cases the ball may afterwards hit any wall or walls and may fall anywhere in the upper or lower court.
(b) If the first cut is hit in such a way that the ball will probably fall out of court, the side which is down may, without interference, touch the ball so that it falls within the court, or
catch it, provided that the player touching or catching the ball has one or both feet on the floor of the court, or, if he jumps for the purpose, alights on the floor of the court with the
foot which first touches the ground. The player may make only one attempt to touch or catch the ball. If the ball is caught, no stroke is counted; if only touched, one of the side which is up may, if
he pleases, return the ball and neither of the opposing side may interfere with his shot; if he fails to return the ball up, no stroke is counted.
(c) If the first cut hits the front wall above the line but on or to the left of the vertical line marked on the front wall and without first touching the right hand wall, this shot is called a
'Blackguard'. It may be returned before the second bounce by either the server or his partner at their option, but if it is not returned above the line, no stroke is counted. The last sentence
does not apply at Game Ball (see Law XI).
(b) If the cutter's partner catches or hits the ball when he is in the air, then his first foot to land must be in court. A player may make just one attempt to stop a cut going out. If he fails
to catch it cleanly, he is not allowed to touch or catch it again. This law is designed to give the serving side a proper chance to play any rebound. If the cutting side do try again to catch it,
this is poor sportsmanship. The cutting side, however, do not lose the point but a let is played. The side which is down may 'without interference' catch the cut going out. They may claim a let
if they are impeded in stopping the ball going out of court.
(c) The serving side has a free stroke on a blackguard cut. If they hit the ball down or directly out of court, without it going up first, then they are not penalised. If they hit the ball up
and then out it does count against them. A blackguard cut which goes out of court is not in play. It therefore does not count as out and the cutting side does not lose the point. At game ball there
is no such thing as a blackguard, so this rule does not apply.
After the service and the first cut the ball is returned alternately by either side. It may be returned by either of the partners before the first or second bounce, and may or may not hit the side walls.
A rally is lost to his side by the player who fails to return the ball above the line or hits it out of court.
(a) A let may be requested when a player is in any way prevented from returning or impeded in his attempt to return the ball by one of the opposite side, if he considers he could otherwise have
returned it. A let may not be requested when a player is impeded by bystanders.
(b) A ball which would have hit the front wall above the line, but is prevented from doing so by one of the opposite side, counts as a let, unless it first strikes one of the opposite side, and
thereafter the front wall above the line, in which caseit counts as up; but if it first strikes one of the same side, it does not count as up, whether it goes up or not. A ball that was going to hit below the front line but first
hits an opponent and then goes above the line shall be deemed to be up.
(c) If a ball after going up from a return by A or B strikes A or B before the second bounce, it shall count as a let if C or D consider that they could have returned it, if it had not hit A or B,
except that if the ball clearly would have fallen out of court it shall count against A and B (subject to the provisions of Law VI relating to a first cut). C or D may, however, elect to return the
ball and continue the rally. If not returned up, it counts as a let. If returned above the line, a let may not be requested, unless it falls out of court.
(d) Where a ball becomes lodged on any ledge within the court before the second bounce, it shall count as a let.
(e) A let may be requested when a player is in some way impeded in his attempt to return the ball by one of the opposite side, and after he has returned it up, the ball then falls out of court.
(f) If the first cut is hit in such a way that it will probably fall out of court and the side which is down tries to catch the ball or touch it so that it falls within the court, a let may be
requested if the person touching or catching the ball is prevented from so doing or impeded in his attempt so to do by one of the opposite side and the ball falls out.
NB If there is no umpire, a request for a let is generally allowed, except where this Law expressly provides that no let can be claimed.
A game is won by the side which first obtains twelve points, except as provided in Law XII. Matches generally consist of the best of five games. Only the side which is up may score points. When A
is put out B takes his place. When B is out, the side is out and their opponents go up, the player who has been cutting being the first hand to go up, except as provided in Law X. The result of each
rally, except in the case of a let, is either to add one to the score of the side which is up, or to put one of them out, as the case may be.
If C loses one point to the opposite side when he is cutting, he is said to be one down. If he loses a second point, he is said to be two down, and D takes his place: if D in turn loses two points,
he is two down and C cuts again, and so on until both A and B are put out; provided that he who was two down first is then the first to go up; but if through inadvertence or otherwise, he does not do so,
the error cannot be corrected after the service has been returned. All balls which fall in the upper court belong to the player who is cutting. Failure to return a ball out of Dead Man's Hole does not
count as one down against the player who is cutting. The player who is cutting cannot be two down at Game Ball.
When the side which is serving requires one point for game, this is called Game Ball, and the following rules must be observed:
(a) The player serving must stand with at least one foot in the lower court, and he may not place both feet on the top step until the player who is cutting has hit the ball. If he forgets to stand
thus, and serves the ball with both feet on the top step, the player who is cutting or his partner may try to catch the ball before it bounces. If they succeed in this, the side serving is out. If, however,
they do not succeed in catching the ball, or if the player serving or his partner manage to touch the ball first, or if it hits the ground before being touched, it counts neither way. A player may remind
his partner of this Law. Where the server places both feet on the top step after the first bounce but before the player who is cutting has hit the ball a let may be claimed by the side cutting.
(b) When the ball is properly served, the player who is cutting may return the first cut against any part of the front wall above the line, with or without hitting the side walls.
(c) The side which is down may not touch or catch a game ball cut which is going out of court (see Law VI (b)).
If the score is at 10 all, the game may, at the option of the side which is cutting, be set to 5 or 3, or not at all; if it is 11 all, to 3 or not at all. If the game is set, Law XI shall apply at 4 or 2
respectively. At 14 all or 12 all in the first case, or at 13 all in the second case, or at 11 all if the game is not set, the game shall be decided by "sudden death", Law XI being observed on either side.