Thought of by many as the predecessor to the modern-day blackjack, Pontoon is also based on getting as close to 21 without breaching the sacred number with your hand of two cards – or more if you hit. You play against a dealer and, if in-house or in a live casino room, alongside fellow players.
As similar as they are in their goal, there are many aspects of Pontoon which separates this card game from blackjack, so here’s breakdown of the classic game as well as some strategy tips to help you win big at Pontoon.
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Before we get into the basic rules of Pontoon, you should know that Pontoon comes down to the highest value hand, with the highest possible combination being a ten-value card and an ace.
So, here is the basic rules guide for Pontoon:
- Prior to the cards being dealt, everyone at the table places their bet as well as an optional side bet known as the Sweet 16.
- The Sweet 16 is dependent on the first two cards dealt, which offers various payouts as a result (16 or 21 pays 1:1, Ace pays 1:1, Pair of Aces pays 1:1, Pair of 2s pushes, Pair of 7s pushes).
- Once the bets have been put down, the banker deals two cards face-down to the player.
- The banker checks their cards for Pontoon. If the banker has Pontoon, they automatically win, and another round is drawn.
- If the banker doesn’t have Pontoon, the game continues with the player. The player then sees their cards and has a decision to make.
- If the player has Pontoon, they win. The player can split if the cards are of equal value. Provided that their total doesn’t exceed 21, the player can hit for up to five cards – one of the reasons why people see Pontoon as a blackjack variation. The player can twist, which will get them a new card (or cards so long as they don’t exceed 21) without the need to change their bet. Or, the player can stick if their hand can reach the value of at least 15.
- The players have had their turn, so it goes back to the banker. The Pontoon banker can stick at any time but will payout to any players who exceed his hand value while staying at or below 21. Other than that, the banker could go bust if they exceed 21 or could pull out a five card trick to defeat everyone bar those who pulled Pontoon.
- Players lose on ties.
When it comes to card values, Pontoon shares even more likeness to blackjack, so players don’t need to adjust their strategy too much in that sense: Aces are worth 11 or 1; Court cards and 10 valued at 10; all other cards hold face value.
Pontoon, like many other table and card games that have hit the online casino circuit, has seen its rules altered and varied from game to game. Being such a simple game, these little blackjack variations will alter the house edge and call for a slight change in strategy.
- No draw to split Aces (Aces that have been split get one card each): Increases house edge by 0.49%.
- 21 points, not Pontoon, made from Aces and 10 after splitting the Aces: Increases house edge by 0.49%
- The fewer decks in play, the greater the house’s edge gets. Usually played with eight decks, if played with two decks, the house edge increases by 0.35%.
- Banker to stand on a soft 17: Lowers house edge by 0.47%.
Pontoon House Edge
The house edge for these default rules with eight decks of 52 cards sits at 0.38%, but those odds can inflate with different variations being brought into play, such as with different rules on 21 being made on a split or more decks being in play.
For in-house Pontoon, there is a set way to strategize your play based on your hand, and whether you should stick, split, hit, or double, but it gets a little bit more varied online. Much like with its card-cousin blackjack, Pontoon has become subject to many slight rule alterations by online software developers. Thus strategies change in accordance.
Luckily, many casino game developers use the standard rules of Pontoon in their versions, which not only keeps the house edge at the standard 0.38% but also allows for a basic strategy to be employed by players.
In the tables below, you can see how you should react based on the value of your hand and how many cards you’re holding – assuming the standard game of Pontoon is in play. This basic strategy will need to be altered in a game that differs its rules from the norm.