Pontoon is a card game that is a variation of blackjack, popularized in England and, thanks to an extremely low house edge, well loved all over the world. There are a couple of main types of pontoon: the Malaysian/Australian version (similar to Spanish 21), which you may find in land-based casinos in Australia and parts of Asia; and the UK version, which is what you are most likely to find at most real money online casino sites. Here we are dealing with the latter, which has more in common with traditional blackjack, though several stark and important differences.
Pontoon game play
Pontoon is played against the dealer by two or more players at a time, with a limit of eight at most real money tables.
A standard casino game is played with chips, with players able to buy directly from the cashier or the online virtual equivalent.
Much like in blackjack, Aces are worth either one or 11, while the picture cards and 10s are worth 10 and the rest of the cards their face value.
When you are playing in a land-based game a player is the banker. As in poker it’s still dealt by the casino but the button goes around, and everyone is aiming to beat the player who is in the hot seat. It’s an advantage being the dealer in pontoon because if there is a tie the banker takes the hand.
Online it is different and you are playing against the bank, either in a game powered by a random number generator or against a live dealer.
The aim: To get 21 or as close as possible without going over it. If you go over 21 the banker wins the hand.
– Pontoon: The 21 must be made up of an ace and a picture card or 10.
– Five-card trick: A player must get five cards totalling 21 or less.
– 21: A hand of three or four cards equalling 21 beats everything except the two hands above.
– 20 or less: You want to get as close to 21 as possible without using five cards.
– Bust: You score more than 21 meaning your hand is worthless.
How to deal in pontoon:
To start, players place their bet (a minimum and maximum are usually enforced on each table). Stakes at land-based casinos can be into the millions in VIP rooms around the world, while online you will find tables allowing you to bet up to around 500 of each currency they accept. This can also vary depending on the strength of the currency.
The banker then deals around the circle starting at their left and gives every player two cards, including themselves.
The dealer then checks their two cards for a pontoon and if they have one the hand is immediately over; if not, the game continues around the circle.
Once it’s clear the banker does not have a pontoon, the players then have the following options, depending on what cards they have. (Pontoon has its own terminology that can take some getting used to).
– Pontoon: The player will have an ace and a card valued at 10.
– Split: The player splits their cards because they have two of the same value. For instance, with two aces you could split and put down a second stake of equal value and play each ace as a separate hand.
– Twist (hit): The player asks for another card. They can hit up to five cards as long as they don’t bust.
– Stick: Pontoon terminology for standing. A player’s hand must equal at least 15 to stick.
After all players have finalized their turns it is time for the dealer to reveal what they have. Like the player they can receive up to five cards each hand without going over 21. Any of these situations could eventuate with the dealer’s hand:
– Bust: The dealer goes over 21.
– 21 or less: The dealer must play until they reach at least 16; every player who has a better hand than the dealer is then paid out.
– Five-card trick: If the dealer manages to have five cards on the table after the deal, only players with pontoon will be paid out.
Key differences between pontoon and blackjack
Keep in mind pontoon is a variation of blackjack so to the uninformed the two may seem largely the same, but there are subtle differences that dictate game strategy significantly.
Terminology: Hit, stand and double down (you only get one more card in BJ) are all terms you hear in blackjack. In pontoon the same actions are called twist, stick and buy (you can get more than one card).
When you can hit: In pontoon you must hit if you have 14 or less; in blackjack you can hit if you have two cards or more and haven’t busted.
Doubling down: In blackjack you can only double down when you have received two cards, while in Pontoon you can buy when you have two, three or four cards. In both games you can only double down once. In pontoon you can hit after you have doubled down, the opposite of blackjack where the hand is over if you have doubled down.
Tied hands: In blackjack a tied hand is a push, while the dealer wins all ties in pontoon.
Pontoon & blackjack: Both are made up of an ace and a card worth – making 21. However, you always win when you get a blackjack, while if both you and the dealer get a pontoon the dealer wins (push).
Payouts: Blackjack pays 3-2, Pontoon pays 2-1.
5-card trick: In pontoon if you manage to get five cards in a hand it is the best hand outside a pontoon and pays 2-1. This rule does not exist in blackjack.
Dealer’s cards: In pontoon both of the dealer’s cards are face down, while in blackjack it’s one facing up and one down.
Aces: You can split aces twice in pontoon, but only the one time in blackjack, meaning you could potentially have three separate hands on the go. If you get 21 after splitting aces in pontoon it is still a pontoon, but in the same situation in blackjack it just a 21.
In blackjack after splitting aces you will receive just the one more card on each hand, meaning you can’t hit or double down, but in pontoon it is possible to do both these things.