Pontoon blackjack is a popular variant of the card game played in the United Kingdom and Australia. Depending on the area, there would be variations in the rules and betting systems. The sure thing is that Pontoon variations share some of the rules of standard blackjack. So how do you play blackjack Pontoon style? In this post, we will guide you on the rules, strategies, and more tips to win.
The UK and Australia versions are played differently. But if you know some blackjack rules, it won’t be that hard to grasp the idea of these variants.
Here, we’ll cover both the Aussie and UK version in general in addition to some specific tips.
What is Pontoon Blackjack?
If we are to talk about Australian Pontoon, it’s simply Spanish 21 in North America. This variant is popular in Singapore and Malaysia. On the other hand, the British Pontoon is somewhat similar to the standard blackjack but with a few distinctive differences.
Both of these sub-variants are played with up to 8 decks on the shoe. However, when we are to play the Aussie version, the dealer will remove all the 10s from the deck, thus a big similarity to Spanish 21.
How many decks are used in Pontoon Blackjack?Usually, Pontoon is played with at least two players but its better if there are 5-8 players on the table. The more players there are in the table, more decks will be added to the shoe.
Basically, a natural blackjack is called a Pontoon. However, if the dealer also has a Pontoon, the player’s supposedly winning hand loses. So how to play blackjack in a casino using the Pontoon rules?
Another winning hand that a player tries to get when playing Pontoon blackjack is the five-card trick. It’s also known as five-card Charlie in standard blackjack but with a little twist. When a player gets five cards with a total value of 21 without busting, s/he wins. However, if the dealer also has the five-card trick, the dealer wins even if the total value is 20 or lower. Why? Because all five-card tricks have the same value and the dealer wins all ties.
Glossary of terms
To make terminologies clear, here’s what they call things in Pontoon blackjack:
Carrots – money
Pontoon – a term for blackjack or an Ace with a 10 or face card (e.i A-10, A-K)
Stick – to stand once you’re satisfied with your hand of at least 15
Twist – to hit another card to improve your hand
Split – the same with standard blackjack, you can split pairs with separate bets
Buy – the manner of getting another face-down card by placing an additional wager. You can only do this a maximum of three times. Also, you can only buy before twisting and not after it. If you started twisting, you can’t opt to buy.
Banker – another term for dealer
Buy x2 – term for doubling down usually used in online casinos
These are almost the same thing with standard blackjack. However, it can get really confusing if you’re in an actual casino if you don’t know what twist or buy is. So how do you play blackjack? If it’s Pontoon style, you have to know the lingo first.
The 15 hand requirement
In Pontoon blackjack, your hand needs to be 15 or up to be effective for play. It means you have to hit until you reach at least 15.What if I’m only going to be dealt one card after splitting? If the two-card hand is lower than 15 after the split, the dealer will automatically hit another card for you until your hand becomes effective for play.
Since you can’t stick to your low-value hand, you stand the chance of busting if dealt with a face card. If you’re planning to play the Aussie version, the house edge becomes higher since both of the dealer’s cards – not just the hole card – are faced down. It will dampen any strategy that you’ll try to employ.
Anyway, Australian Pontoon is only offered online in Asia and the Pacific. Although there are some casinos that may offer this blackjack variant, it would be very, very rare.
Rules of Pontoon Blackjack
Planning to play Pontoon? Before anything else, you should know that since all 10 cards are removed from the deck, only the face cards are valued at 10. There are some casinos that don’t remove the 10s, but in line with the usual Pontoon rules, any deck in the shoe will have no 10 cards.
Unlike in usual blackjack, the dealer or banker (as how they are called in the game) will deal each player with a face-down card. The second card will be dealt face-down as well and only the players can look on their hands. So how to play blackjack in a casino? Still, you’re playing against the dealer.
The dealer peaks for a blackjack or Pontoon. If there’s one, s/he will expose his hand and retrieve the winnings. If the dealer doesn’t have a Pontoon, the players can all “twist (hit)” another card or “stick (stand)”. Remember, your hand should have a value of at least 15. The dealer will deal the succeeding cards face up except if you buy. Here are the rules of the game:
There are possible differences in these rules based on casino discretion and the area where you’re playing. Anyway, these are general rules where most Pontoon rules are derived from. So how do you play blackjack? Here’s how Pontoon works:
Hole card rules
Aside from the player rules, there are varying rules in the dealer’s hole card. Unlike in standard blackjack where you lose only the hands you screw up, there are different rulings in Pontoon. Here are some that you should know before sitting on the table:
🃏BB+1 – This stands for Busted Bets Plus One. The player loses his busted hands plus an equal amount of his original bet if he still has some carrots. This is a massive money grabber.
🃏OBO – OBO or Original Bets Only is when the players lose only his or her original bet when the dealer has a blackjack or Pontoon.
🃏European No Hole Card – When following this rule, all the bets on the table lose whenever the dealer has a Pontoon.
🃏OBBO – OBBO or Original and Busted Bets Only. This is when the player loses only the original wager of his hand he busted or lost over the dealer. This means the player won’t lose everything in a double down.
In the British version, when the dealer gets a blackjack, the players automatically pay twice the amount of their losing wagers. This is how to play blackjack if you can afford to lose more money.
The house edge of Pontoon varies depending on the number of decks in the shoe and the rules. To give you an idea, a typical Pontoon game has a house edge of 0.39%. That’s lower than a standard blackjack if we are to compare. However, we also need to take a look on some defining factors when it comes to house edge:
|RULE VARIATIONS||HOUSE EDGE ±|
|Double only 2 cards||-0.16%|
|European No Hole Card||-0.06%|
Payouts for Pontoon blackjack is as different as its rules if we compare it to the standard American version. Here’s a quick look at how much you’ll get for every winning hand:
|Pontoon or blackjack||2:1|
|Seven (and more)-card 21||3:1|
|All other hands||Even money|
As you see, a natural blackjack is an optimal hand against the dealer and in terms of payouts. However, this can be beaten by a dealer’s Pontoon depending on the rules employed on the table. Another safe hand that you can get is a five or so card trick. However, remember that the dealer always wins tied hands.
How do you play blackjack? When it comes to playing Pontoon, the basic strategy we usually employ on standard blackjack may not be optimal. There are different rules which call for different strategies. On this chart from Wizards of Odds, you’ll have a quick reference on what move you should do per hand vis-a-vis the dealer’s card. Take note that this only applies to the Australian variant:
As you see, Pontoon is trickier than the usual blackjack we use to play. Still, mastering it would be a great source of income for serious gamblers.
When it comes to splitting, the best hand is a pair of 8s. As for a pair of Aces, it’s only advisable to split if the 21 after split will be paid as a Pontoon.
If you find this chart a bit advanced, I suggest that you refer to Casino Top 10s basic strategy card. Here’s how to play blackjack Pontoon style:
These moves will work for beginners. But if you want to earn big dollars, you have to incorporate advanced techniques here. It takes time to practice, but like any blackjack variation, it’s not impossible to master.
In Britain, a variant of the game called Shoot Pontoon is very popular. It dates back to the ’50s and still practiced in some casinos nowadays.
To play a shoot, the dealer forms a kitty on the table. This is an amount of money that the players can wager on.If one player decides to bet the same amount of the kitty, no other player can shoot for it. But if the first player decides to shoot only half of it, other players have the chance to place their shoots. As long as the whole kitty amount isn’t betted, anyone on the table can fill it in.
The dealer then deals the second cards of the players. When the dealer peeks and yields a Pontoon or blackjack, s/he retrieves the shoot bets. The players would also have to pay the dealer twice their normal wagers. It’s a side bet in nature and you’re required to wager.
If any of the hands on the table is busted, the losing amount will be added to the kitty, therefore increasing the chances of the players of placing shoot bets.
Basically, these rules for British Pontoon and Australian Pontoon are almost the same. I suggest that you check the rules per casino so you won’t fly blind while playing.
There’s a good chance you can card count when playing Pontoon blackjack. In the British setup, the dealer retrieves the used cards and stacks it at the bottom of the pack. The dealer won’t shuffle the cards unless the shoe reaches a minimum playing capacity.
However, here’s the catch: the shoe shuffles once there’s a Pontoon.This dampens any chance of maintaining a running count for the whole shoe. And given that the dealer’s cards are dealt face down, it would be a challenge to find a solid card counting strategy.
Your best bet is coming up and mastering a basic strategy. Some casinos are lenient enough to let you use a small cheat card on the table.
Also, I suggest that you master playing Pontoon in at least 3-4 decks. As much as you can find a one-deck game, it’s still a rarity. If there are many players on the table, there would be more cards on the shoe.
How do you play blackjack? Do you prefer it in Pontoon style? This variant is very different than the other types we’ve discussed. Still, it’s interesting and challenging enough to capture the attention of many players.