Pontoon is a variety of card game similar to blackjack in that it’s played against the dealer and is based around the number 21. Although not as widely known and played as blackjack, it’s a very underrated game and one that is worth exploring if you’ve never played it before. There are some important differences between the two, which we will look at below, but anyone who’s ever played blackjack will be able to get a handle on pontoon fairly quickly.
The majority of leading software developers have online pontoon games that you can enjoy, including Microgaming, Playtech, Real Time Gaming and Betsoft, and below we recommend the leading Canadian casinos that offer online pontoon:
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Rules of pontoon blackjack
In pontoon, like in blackjack, the aim is to make a hand as close as possible to 21 without going over and which is better than the dealer’s hand. An online pontoon table essentially looks the same as an online blackjack table, with the exception of the insurance bet line, while cards also have the same value (i.e., an ace is worth 1/11 and picture cards are worth 10). Most online pontoon is played with a single deck of 52 cards.
At the start of a hand, all players and the dealer receive two cards, with the player’s face up and both of the dealer’s cards face down. The dealer checks his cards for pontoon, which is the same as a blackjack i.e., an ace and a picture card, and if the dealer hits pontoon, the player automatically loses and the hand is over.
If the dealer hasn’t hit pontoon, players then have the option to hit, stand, split or double. When the player has finished playing his hand, the dealer then reveals his cards. He will then hit cards up to and including a soft 17, or stand at hard 17 and above or on hitting a five-card trick. Once the dealer stands, the better hand wins. In online pontoon, there are two hands that beat 21 – a pontoon or a five-card trick. Pontoon and five-card tricks pay out at 2-1, with other winning hands paying 1-1.
Features of online pontoon:
- a pontoon is an ace with any picture card or 10 (can also be hit after splitting)
- any five-card hand that totals 21 or less is known as a five card trick and pays 2 to 1
- there is no push; the dealer wins on ties
- there is no insurance option
- at most online casinos, players are not able stand below 15
- players can double on 2, 3 or 4 cards, but this can only be done once per hand
- doubling can be done after splitting, once per hand
- two cards of equal rank can be split, and then there can also be one further re-split, making a total of three hands
- after splitting, players automatically receive one card
- if aces are split, players can draw and double
Odds in pontoon blackjack
The House Edge in online pontoon is 0.38%, except in Microgaming casinos where it is 0.39% (because you can’t draw and double if you split aces). This compares favourably with blackjack where there tends to be far greater variety in the House Edge because there is significantly more variation in the rules from game to game and from casino to casino, particularly with regard to splitting.
Of course, being able to take full advantage of this relatively low House Edge does depend on you understanding and using Basic Strategy. This differs somewhat from Blackjack Basic Strategy, but the principle is the same in that it should dictate which option you should choose in any given situation.
Top 5 pontoon blackjack tips
Basic Pontoon Strategy is made simpler by the fact that the dealer’s cards are face down and so there are not so many permutations to take into account. However, because the aim is to try and hit a five-card trick, some aspects of strategy may seem unorthodox to the player new to pontoon.
Here are five tips that you should always adhere to if you want to use Basic Pontoon Strategy effectively.
- You should only split aces and 8s; for all other pairs, you should play as normal. If the rules do not permit the splitting of aces you should hit, and if you can’t split 8s you should stand.
- When you’re holding 7 or less, you should always hit, no matter how many cards you have.
- If you hold a hard 12, 13 or 14, you should hit if you have three cards or less, but double if you have four cards.
- If you hold a hard 17, you should stand if you have three cards or less, but hit if you have four cards.
- If you have a hard 10 or 11, you should always double.
Ultimately, whether you prefer pontoon over blackjack or the other way round comes down to personal choice, but it is a game that we always recommend trying if you haven’t played it before. This is because hitting Pontoon is always an automatic win for instance, whereas a blackjack can sometimes result in a push, while the five-card trick at 2-1 also offers another opportunity to win.
The casinos that we recommend all enable you to play pontoon in Flash or demo mode for free, so you can sample the game and put the Basic Pontoon Strategy tips outlined above to the test before playing for real money.