Pontoon - How to Play

Pontoon is the British version of Blackjack. While the basic objective is the same, to get as close as possible to 21 without busting, there are some important differences between Pontoon and Blackjack. One difference is that a 5-card hand that doesn't bust pays 2-1. Although this doesn't happen often, it does serve to lower the house's advantage. The two more important differences between Blackjack and Pontoon are that in Pontoon the player must hit on 14 or less and ties go to the dealer.

There are, also, a few variations of Pontoon. Here we will discuss only the most common aspects of Pontoon.


The Basics

*** As in Blackjack, the object is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over.

*** Going over 21 is called "bust" and loses automatically.

*** The desire not to bust leads players to stick with as few as 15 points. Players must hit on 14 points. In some casinos players must hit on 15.

*** The cards have the same values as in Blackjack.

*** Online, the numbers are generated by the Random Number Generator to guarantee fairness.

Sequence of Play

*** Players are dealt two cards.

*** Dealer is dealt two cards face-down.

*** Both players and the dealer check for Pontoon which is the same as a natural Blackjack. In some casinos a player's Pontoon always wins even against a dealer's Pontoon. In other casinos, the opposite is the case; the dealer's Pontoon always defeats a player's Pontoon. It is never the case that double Pontoons are a push (tie).

*** A player with Pontoon is paid 2-1.

*** If the dealer has Pontoon, he wins all bets except when a player also has Pontoon.

*** If there aren't any Pontoons, the hand proceeds. Players may double their bet. Doubling in Pontoon is not the same as doubling down in Blackjack. In Pontoon, when you double you continue to play the hand out as if it were a regular hand. The difference is that you have doubled your bet. This adds to the player's advantage.

*** Players may split cards of the same rank. Some houses allow any picture cards or the ten to split; others allow only two tens, two Jacks etc.

*** Some houses allow re-splits and some don't.

*** If the player busts, he loses automatically.

Special Pontoon Rules

*** Pontoon always wins automatically. In some casinos the player beats a dealer's Pontoon; in others the dealer beats a player's Pontoon.

*** Ties go to the house.

*** A five-card hand wins against everything but a Pontoon. This applies even when the dealer's hand has more points! Five-card hands pay 2-1.

*** Players must hit on 14 or 15, depending on house rules.

*** In most casinos, the dealer must hit on soft 17.

Special Pontoon Terms

*** After the player has received his first two cards, he can "buy a card" or "twist a card".

*** If the player wants to increase his bet, he says "buy me one". He increases bet according to the house rules, usually by twice the bet. The player may continue to "buy" cards until he has 5 cards or busts.

*** If the player doesn't want to increase his bet he can say "twist me one". He can continue to "twist" until he has five cards or busts.

Special Pontoon Strategy

*** Double and split aggressively.

*** Some strategists consider 17 a weak hand because ties go to the house. They advise hitting on 17.

*** Always hit on soft intermediate holdings (15, 16, or 17).

*** Many advise hitting on soft 18 because of the tie rule.

Posted by Nick David

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