Pontoon, a casino table game, is a comparing game that is actually a version of the popular American blackjack. Blackjack, or twenty one, in turn comes from the traditional French game of vingt et un (French for twenty one). In all cases, the game is played with a standard deck – sometimes two decks – of fifty two playing cards, and the goal is to beat the dealer by reaching a total score that is higher than his, but less than or equal to twenty one. All players are competing against the dealer and not against each other, and each bets separately. In spite of these similarities, pontoon rules have some important differences. Let’s take a look at how to play.
Each player, plus the dealer, receives two cards to start. These are placed face up except for the dealer’s, which are both face down. The dealer may look at his cards, but must keep their faces hidden from the rest of the players. Each player adds up the value of his own cards. Cards from two through nine are valued at their face value. Tens, Jacks, Queens and Kings are worth ten points, and an Ace is counted as one or eleven according to the preference of the player that holds it. If a player’s initial two card hand has a value of twenty one – for example a Jack plus an Ace – this is a Pontoon, the best possible hand.
You may ask for another card by saying “Twist.” You must twist if your hand is worth fourteen or less. At fifteen points or more, it’s up to you how to proceed. Twisting stops when you reach twenty one (Pontoon) or “Bust” (go over). Another option is to “Buy” – that is, double your bet, receive just one more card and “Stick” (stay). Unlike blackjack, pontoon buying is permitted once per hand on any hand of up to four cards. You may also split a pair, but you may later form a pontoon with an Ace and a Ten from your split hands. A five card trick totaling twenty one is the next best hand after a Pontoon, and pays out at 2:1. Pontoon also differs from blackjack in that the dealer wins any ties.
From this description you will see that there are important differences between pontoon and blackjack. Using basic blackjack strategy to win at pontoon will not work, mainly because you can’t base your play on the dealer’s up card when both his cards are face down. For this reason, there are pontoon strategy charts specially devised for this game. One useful tip if you are unsure whether to twist or stick is to consider how close you are to a five card trick, the second most valuable hand in the game of pontoon. We have assembled pontoon reviews so that you can choose the best game.