Jai-Alai Rules, History, Tips & Equipment

A history of Jai-Alai, how to play, tips for improvement & necessary equipment

How to Play Jai-Alai

Jai-Alai is a Basque word meaning "merry festival." The sport is played in an open arena and is promoted by the Basque government as "the fastest sport in the world."

Jai-Alai History

Jai-Alai, originated as the sport of the Basques in the Northeastern part of Spain and the Southwestern part of France in the Pyrenees Mountains. The game evolved from different types of hand and racquet sports and became known as Pelota Vasca or Basque Ball. The game was usually played on Sundays or Fiesta days. The Church walls served as the walls of the court. The game soon spread to Italy, Mexico, and Cuba. The first indoor court was built in 1798 in Marquena. It was first introduced to the United States at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. The sport became a gambling alternative to horseracing and is popular in Florida.

Jai-Alai Rules

Jai-Alai is usually played eight players or eight teams of two players. A Jai-Alai court, also known as a "cancha," is composed of three walls (front, back, and left) and the floor between them. The court is divided by 14 parallel lines going horizontally across the court. Line one is closest to the front wall while line fourteen is closest to the back wall. Games are played to seven or nine points. Two teams are on the court for each point. The team that wins the point stays on the court to meet the next team in the rotation, while the other team goes to the back of the line.

Each round begins with one team serving. The server must bounce the ball behind the serving line, and then with the cesta "basket" throw the ball so it bounces off the front wall and lands between lines four and seven on the floor. The ball is then in play. Teams go back and forth catching the ball in the cesta, and throwing it in one fluid motion. The ball must be either caught on the fly or either after one bounce.

A team scores a point if a player on the opposing team:

  1. Fails to serve the ball so it bounces between the fourth and seventh line
  2. Fails to catch the ball on the fly or after one bounce
  3. Holds or juggles the ball
  4. Throws the ball out of bounds
  5. Interferes with a player trying to catch the ball.

Points double after the first round of play. A round consists of each team playing at least one point.

Jai-Alai Tips

One should practice using a "kill shot" serve called a "chula" shot, where the ball is played off the front wall very high, then reaches the bottom of the back wall by the end of its arc. The ball is difficult to return because it bounces very low off of the back wall.

Jai-Alai Equipment

Teams need one jai-alai ball, called a pelota, 125g -140g, covered with goat skin. Each player needs a cesta, a curved throwing and catching instrument. The cesta is 3 to 3 inches. Traditional jai-alai players wear a faja, a red sash, as part of the standard uniform. The rest of the uniform consists of white shoes and trousers, and a colored and numbered shirt indicating post positions. Players also are known to wear a casco, Spanish for helmet.