Blackjack Variations: The British Game of Pontoon Adds Interesting Quirks to a Familiar Game
Pontoon is similar enough to Blackjack to be categorized as a variation of this game – though only just. You’ll find special situations including the ability to get a ‘5 Card Trick’ and to buy another card (essentially doubling down). The words used to describe the common actions in this game are also different from Blackjack (stand = stick and so on).
There is a different game of Pontoon which is played in Australia and Malaysia. This is called Spanish 21 (the cut deck game) by everyone else, and is not the subject of this page.
You’ll find Pontoon in many live casinos in the UK and around the world, though this is not too common in the US. This game can also be played online with casinos running MicroGaming and Real Time Gaming software both spreading it.
Below you will find a run-through of a hand of Pontoon from start to finish, with the key differences from Blackjack highlighted along the way.
How to Play Pontoon
The setup of this game states that between 2 and 8 decks can be used. Online this is less important, though live casinos will tend to choose 6 or 8 deck games to deter card counters. Players place a single bet before the cards are dealt, plus any optional side bets which are offered with this game. In live casinos the minimum bets are usually $5 (or local equivalent), online you’ll find this is a lower $1.
Next players are dealt 2 cards face up, one at a time from the dealer’s left. The dealer is also dealt 2 cards. In a major difference with the standard Blackjack rules, both of these cards are face down, they are revealed to the players only after their actions are finished.
Some of the terms might seem unfamiliar, though there are easy and direct translations for these. A ‘Blackjack’ hand (natural 21) is referred to as a ‘Pontoon’. If you want to take another card you ‘Twist’ instead of hitting. Stick = Stand and instead of doubling down you buy a card. I am sure most dealers will understand perfectly well is you say stand (for example) instead of stick!
If you hit 21 in 2 cards (a ‘Pontoon’) you are paid out at 2:1. In a welcome extra rule, a tie with 21 goes in favor of the player – so if the dealer and player both have this, you still get paid the full amount. In this game, any 5 card hand with 21 or under is paid at 2:1 too, this is the ‘5-Card Trick’.
You cannot stick on any total 15 or below. Since both of the dealer’s cards are face-down, it would not be clear when to do this anyway, so this rule is not as negative as it would be if you were forced to twist with a dealer 5 showing. The fact that there is no dealer up card means you’ll take more risks in general, this is in favor of the house – and the reason for the other player-friendly rules to balance better with this.
The ‘Buying’ (doubling) rules are different from regular blackjack in the game of Pontoon too. You can buy a card (add an extra bet) at any point during the hand. There is also no restriction on taking more cards once you have bought one. This is a great way of increasing your stakes when the situation is in your favor, and something that you should be taking advantage of.
Hands of equal rank can be split in Pontoon, with a single re-split then allowed. You can split aces without restrictions on additional cards, and you are also allowed to buy cards (double) after splitting.
In summary; Pontoon is enough of a shift from the standard Blackjack rules to make it an interesting and fresh game to try. The dealer’s cards are hidden, and you’ll not be able to stand on 15 or under – which simplifies the game strategy somewhat. Extra payouts for 21 and 5-card tricks, and the ability to buy cards at any point swing things back in favor of the player.