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Pontoon Blackjack

The game of Pontoon is a blackjack-derivative table game that is found in many casinos. At many online casinos the game is listed under blackjack, and while most websites do not allow blackjack to count towards clearing a bonus, the game of Pontoon is often disallowed also because a skilled player can do very well at the game where the house has an edge of less than half a percent.

To be clear, in Australia, a game called Pontoon is offered in several casinos, but down under, the game of Pontoon is really what is called Spanish 21 everywhere else. Spanish 21 is played in a very similar style to blackjack, Pontoon is not, and it is a game with its own  hand rankings.

Pontoon is usually played with eight decks of Standard English cards. No wild cards or jokers are used and the card values are the same as at regular blackjack. However, final hands are ranked by both their point total and the number of cards held. And, players must keep in mind that like the game of Double Exposure, ties lose.

Making Hands at Pontoon

You almost have to play the game first to even understand some of the rules and possibilities at Pontoon, but for now, we’ll assume you know how to play blackjack. Now think of a cool blackjack game where you can double down at any time, you can hit your hand after doubling down, and you can lose that hand, even if you make a four-card 21! That happens when the dealer makes a five-card – called a Trick. Yup, it’s confusing but fun!

A two-card 21 is called a Pontoon at this game, and as with blackjack, it is the best hand. However, a Pontoon pays 2 to 1, even after splitting aces!  And, when the player wins with a five-card hand they also win 2 to 1. The tradeoff is that neither of the dealer’s cards are face-up. Yes, you are flying blind, so be careful.

Simplified Rules for Pontoon

After all bets are placed, the dealer will deliver two cards to each player and themselves. Their cards will be face down. They will check to see if they have Pontoon (two-card 21). If they do, players lose their wagers and the hand is over. If not, the hand continues and players must hit until they reach a point total of at least 15, unless they already have five cards.

Pontoon Pays 2 to 1

Player may hit any point total

Player may stand on any total of 15 or over

Player may double down on 2, 3 or 4 cards (once per hand)

Player may double down after a split

Player may split any two equal rank cards up to a total of three hands

Player may double down and redraw to split aces

Split aces that become 2-card 21’s count as Pontoon

Dealer wins all tie hands

Dealer hits soft 17

Dealer stands on hard 17

Five-card Trick pays 2 to 1

All other player winning hands pay 1 to 1

Player loses on any busted hand

Hank Rankings

Pontoon – a two-card 21

Trick – a five card hand of 21 or less – and all five card hands are equal.

Hands of 21 or less with 4 cards or less – ranked according to total points

The Player Wins:

If they have a higher total than the dealer when they both have four cards or less

If the dealer busts and they do not

If they have a five-card hand of 21 or less and the dealer does not have a 5-card hand

The Dealer Wins:

If they have the same or higher total of 21 or less than the player and they both have four cards or less

If the hands are a tie

If the dealer makes a five-card total of 21 or less

The player busts

For online players, these rules hold true for Cryptologic, Playtech and Real Time Gaming. At Microgaming sites an ace and ten after splitting is not considered a Pontoon.

Strategy for Pontoon

Playing Pontoon is an art. Because you can’t see the dealer’s cards, you’ll have to be more conservative, splitting only aces and 8’s. You’ll also want to keep your double downs on the first two cards to just 10 and 11. However, since you can double on any number of cards (one time) and you can hit after a double, you’ll have to think outside the lines of standard blackjack.

Stand on any hard total of 15 through 21, except when you already have four cards (since a 5-card hand is such a strong hand and pays double).  With four cards, double on 8 through 16 and hit a 17. You’ll also want to double on any soft hand of 14 through 21 when you have four cards!

Remember, strange things happen at Pontoon, like starting with 10, doubling and catching a deuce for 12, then hitting again with a 9 for 21 and feeling really good until the dealer makes a five-card 17 and beats you! Of course you can do similar things with the crazy option of doubling down on any number of cards and even hitting after a double.

Keep your eyes open and remember how powerful a five-card hand is!

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