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Jai Alai Rules and Gameplay Explained

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. May 4, 2023
Jai Alai Rules and Gameplay Explained

Jai alai is an intense game which involves throwing a ball against a wall to score points, but the throwing involves a cesta. This is a specially adapted basket which can propel the ball at very high speeds. It is this high-speed aspect of the game which makes it so scary for some people and so thrilling for others. It began in the Spanish Basque Country, but is now played all over the world. This includes other European countries such as France, as well as North America and Latin American countries. At oneHOWTO we provide this article where the jai alai rules and gameplay are explained.

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  1. What is the cesta in jai alai?
  2. History of the jai alai game
  3. The rules of jai alai

What is the cesta in jai alai?

A variation of the Basque game pelota, jai alai is a sport which uses various equipment to play. The most important are the ball (the pelota itself) and a specially adapted wicker basket which fastenes to the arm (known as the cesta). Each player much use the cesta to catch and throw the ball.

The meaning of jai alai is ‘merry party’, perhaps because the players of the game enjoy it so much. When they fight for control of the ball, it flies around the track at full speed as the spectators watch. It is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular sports in the world.

The discipline is practiced on a fronton court, a one- or two-panelled wall against which the ball is thrown. Each participant attaches their basket to their hand tightly by means of a leather glove. In this way, the basket functions as a perfect extension of the hand.

Catching the ball that the opponent has thrown and throwing it at maximum power, trying to make it as difficult as possible for the opponent when it comes to catching it, makes this sport a thrilling spectacle. It is a deep-rooted tradition in the Basque Country.

History of the jai alai game

The practice of games and sports consisting of throwing balls dates back millennia. We can find examples in ancient civilizations, from the Greco-Roman to the Aztec. While the history of the jai alai game is not quite as ancient, it has been a traditional sport practiced mainly in the Basque Country and also other areas of northern Spain for a long time.

It is believed that this sport could have its beginnings in an ancient game originating in France. This is the so-called jeu de peume (literally ‘game with the palm of the hand’) which was already popular in the 14th century. In any case, jai alai began to be known and spread in the mid-19th century. The term jai alai was first coined in 1875. It reached great popularity during the 20th century, not only in the Basque Country, but also in other areas of Spain and France.

In the 1970s, jai alai became one of the most followed sports in the United States and also in other countries such as Argentina, Cuba or Mexico. It is here where jai alai matches brought together thousands of fans on the fronton courts. At the end of the 80s, the international ‘boom’ was declining, but today it is still a sport practiced and admired for its strength and speed in different parts of the world, although it is in the Basque Country where it has a the greatest presence and roots.

Jai Alai Rules and Gameplay Explained - History of the jai alai game

The rules of jai alai

Now we know a little about the history and basics of jai alai gameplay, we are going to look more closely at the rules of jai alai:

  • The essential equipment is the concave basket (cesta) itself, in addition to the ball. The ball must have a diameter of 60-62 cm and a weight between 115-130 grams. The use of a protective helmet has been mandatory for decades, given the extremely high speed (up to 300 km/hour) that the ball can reach and the danger of injury that this creates.

  • As for the game, the jai alai is practiced in a fronton, either individually, between two players (pelotaris) that can be men or women. There are also pairs games of jai alai.

  • The dynamic is very simple. With the basket, the ball is thrown to the front wall with force and spin to try to prevent the opponent from catching it.

  • In terms of how to score points in jai alai, the objective of the game is to score points by throwing the pelota in such a way that it is difficult for the opposing team to catch and return it. Points are scored when the opposing team fails to catch the pelota before it bounces twice on the court.

  • Each game usually starts with three sets. Each set will be won by the player or the pair that gets to 15 points first.

  • The pelotari throws the ball from the established point for their serve to be valid and their opponent must catch it with the basket, directly or after a single bounce. If they do not catch it or does so after it has bounced more than once, the point will go to the shooter.

  • The point can also be lost for holding the ball in the basket without shooting it for an excessive time, for intentionally hindering the opponent's movements, or for sending the ball out of bounds on the court.

If you want to learn how to play some sports you may not already be aware of, we have some related articles to inspire you. These include how to play horseball and how to play bocce ball.

If you want to read similar articles to Jai Alai Rules and Gameplay Explained, we recommend you visit our Sports category.

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Jai Alai Rules and Gameplay Explained