Pontoon Card Game Rules & Strategy (Aussie Blackjack)
If you've ever visited a casino in the UK or Australia you're likely quite familiar with the card game Pontoon. The Australian version of Blackjack is like the North American Spanish 21 and offers really good odds for players. The British version of Pontoon is closer to standard 21. If you'd like to learn the rules of both Pontoon card games and discover optimal Pontoon strategy, read on!
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What is Pontoon?
The first distinction to be aware of is there are two different card games that are called Pontoon and they both have slightly different rules.
Australian Pontoon (also played in casinos in Malaysia and Singapore) is more or less the same as the Spanish 21 Blackjack variation you'll find in North American casinos. British Pontoon, on the other hand, sticks a little closer to traditional Blackjack rules.
When you play Pontoon in a live casino in South-East Asia or Australia, the tens are removed from the deck, just like they are in Spanish 21. When playing the Pontoon Card Game online, the British version is the standard and full 52-card decks are used. Usually 8 decks in total are used in the shoe.
How are Pontoon Hands Ranked?
A Pontoon (a two-card hand totalling 21, also known as a Natural or Blackjack in other Blackjack variants) is the strongest hand possible. But it's still beaten by a dealer's Pontoon.
The next strongest hand is a five-card trick, which is basically all five-card hands that haven't been busted (gone over 21). If you get a five-card trick totalling 21 and the dealer has a five-card trick hand totalling, 20 the dealer still wins the hand as the dealer wins all ties and all five-card tricks are of the same value.
If your hand has three or four cards and totals 21, you still have a strong hand but it's not as strong as a five-card trick or a Pontoon. The latter two pays 2-1 while a three or four-card 21 only pays 1-1.
Hands Must Be 15 or Higher
One thing that differs in a Pontoon card game compared to Blackjack is that a player's hand is not valid unless it reaches a total of 15 or higher. In effect this means that you can't just stay (or stick as it is called in Pontoon) on hard hands ranging from 12 - 14 as you can in regular blackjack.
This means that even though you only get one card after splitting Aces the dealer will automatically deal you another card if your two-card hand doesn't reach a total of 15 or higher.
In Australian Pontoon both dealer cards are also undisclosed. This is a real difference for players as the exposed card of the dealer is usually the best source of information on which to base in-game decisions.
Just like in Spanish 21, the Rules (and strategy) of Pontoon in a live casino change notably. All tens are removed so that all decks used in the game only contain 48 cards. If you're a regular BlackJack player, you can see how this dramatically changes the odds and what the optimal play is in every scenario.
But one of the reasons why Australian Pontoon is a strategic players' favorite is because of all the bonus wagers and a variety of rule adjustments that tilt the chances of winning toward the player. Five-card 21s, Super Bonus payouts and late surrenders are all great reasons for choosing Australian Pontoon instead of a regular blackjack game.
Unfortunately, this game is only available in South-East Asia and Australia - at least in its live form. Online, however, you can see a variety of casinos offer the Uk version and give you a great chance to try it out with a big welcome bonus.
How to Play Pontoon - The Rules
A round of Pontoon starts with the dealer (banker) dealing one card face down to each player. All players can look at their card except the banker.
Starting to dealer's left players then make their initial bets. A second card is now dealt face down to each player and all players, including the dealer look at their cards.
If the banker has a Pontoon (an Ace plus a face card, worth 10 points) it's immediately exposed and the banker takes double the bet from each of the players.
If the banker doesn't have a pontoon then players can each try and improve their hand by drawing ('twisting' or buying) cards from the dealer.
If you have a pontoon, congratulations! You win your bet. But if your cards add up to less than 21, you have a few options.
- If the total value of your cards is 15 or over, you can say "stick." Just like a stay in regular blackjack, you stop your turn, keep your bet as is and pass the turn on to the next player. If your hand is ultimately higher than the dealer's (or he goes bust), you win.
- If the total value of your cards is less than 21 you can also say 'twist.' The dealer will then deal you another card face up. If you're still under 21 you can twist one or two more cards. If you're still under )or equal to) 21 after five cards, you have a five-card pontoon.
- If the total value of your cards is less than 21 you can also "buy" more cards. That means you add to your bet (either equal to or up to twice your original bet) and get another card dealt face down. If you're still under 21 you can buy another card again and do the same with your bet - add any amount between your original bet and how much you bet the previous time. If your two cards are equal in rank, you may split them into two hands by putting them face up on the table and placing another bet equal to your initial bet. If you're still under 21 you can buy a fifth card.
If you start by twisting you have to keep twisting - you can't buy any cards later in the hand and increase your bets. But if you start by buying cards you can continue buying or you can switch to twisting at any point.
Just like in Blackjack if you get two of the same cards on the initial deal you can split them and play each hand separately. If you get another of the same value card, you can split it again. If you go over the value of 21 at any point in a hand you are bust and have to flip your hand over.
Basic Pontoon Strategy and Hand Chart
Because of the missing tens and the variety of hand bonuses, Pontoon strategy is a whole new ballgame.
If you're playing Australian Pontoon, strategy is obviously very similar to Spanish 21 strategy but there are still are some differences. Here is our strategy chart of how to optimize your chances of winning in Pontoon. Click the image to enlarge the chart.
Most casino don't mind if players actually use the chart while they play; online you can obviously use it as well.
One thing that the online version has adapted from the Australian live game is the game expressions.
It differs a bit from regular blackjack terminology, but you won't have any problem adjusting to the new lingo. Instead of "hit" you say "twist" and instead of "stay" you say "stick". The "Double Down" button has been replaced with a "Buy x2" icon.
Play Pontoon Online!
You can play Pontoon online in most online casinos. Above is our toplist of the best casinos you can find offering the game. If you're looking for it in the casino lobby you'll find it among the blackjack tables. Best of luck at the tables!