Pontoon is a popular game in Britain but punters from outside the UK have rarely heard of it and are unlikely to be aware that it is a close relative of a game very close to their hearts.
Pontoon is the British version of Blackjack. This should not be confused with the Australian game of Pontoon, which although a variant of this timeless classic, is actually the same as Spanish 21.
Pontoon contains all the basics of the Blackjack we know and love:
- The aim of the game is to beat the dealer's hand and get as close to 21 as possible.
- The scoring in Pontoon is identical to Blackjack – with the lower cards having the same points as their numerical value, the face/royal cards scoring ten and the ace having a value of either 1 or 11.
So the aim and the basics of Pontoon and Blackjack are the same but the terminology and rules are not.
Pontoon differs from traditional Blackjack in the following ways:
- Pontoon is played with 2 – 8 decks (each with 52 cards) whereas Blackjack can be played with just one deck.
- The player options in Pontoon are named differently.
- 'Twist' corresponds to the Blackjack term to 'Hit' (take another card).
- 'Stick' corresponds to the Blackjack term to 'Stand' (take no more cards)
- 'Buy' corresponds to the Blackjack term to 'Double Down' but with the difference that in Pontoon the player has a few advantages in that he or she can buy on any hand from 2-4 cards and can also twist (hit) after they have bought.
- In Pontoon, doubling is allowed only once per hand but it is more commonly used than in Blackjack, as in a pre-doubled hand an ace can only be counted as 1 as opposed to 11. This means that soft hands are likely to need doubling.
- Any hand with a score of 21 – known as a 'Pontoon' (' Blackjack') – pays 2-1, even after splitting (as opposed to 1.5-1 in Blackjack).
- Unlike Blackjack, with Pontoon, any five-card hand – called a Five Card Trick in Pontoon (a 'Five Card Charlie' in Blackjack) pays 2-1.
- The two best and highest paying hands are therefore a Pontoon or a Five Card Trick. The next best pay-out is on a 3-4 card hand that totals 21. This however does not beat either a Pontoon or Five Card Trick.
- Both dealer cards are dealt face down.
- Whereas in Blackjack a tie generally results in the return of the stake, in Pontoon the dealer wins all ties.
- Pontoon offers excellent odds, with the house edge being as low as 0.17%. This edge is lower the higher number of decks are in use, mainly due to the Five Card Trick, which becomes more likely with the higher number of cards in play.
As with Blackjack, Pontoon rules to vary between one casino and another. It is important to familiarize yourself with the house rules before playing.