How to Play Blackjack Variation Pontoon: Rules, Strategy & Odds
Pontoon is another form of the classic casino favorite, Blackjack. This variation is closely related to Spanish 21 due to the various rule differentiations from traditional blackjack. The biggest difference is that the dealer does not receive his second card until all player hands are completed.
The dealer having no visible hole card offers both positive and negative connotations for the player. On the negative side, players cannot use an ordinary blackjack strategy chart (there are strategy charts designed specifically for Pontoon) upon which to base all of their strategic decisions. However, it also means that the player will instantly win with a natural blackjack, whereas both Spanish 21 and classic blackjack give the casino the win when both player and dealer strike a natural blackjack.
Variations in the rules of Pontoon include the following:
- Pontoon can be played with either 4, 6 or 8 decks of cards most commonly 8. The more decks there are in the shoe, the higher the house edge becomes, thus the 4-deck game is the most advantageous to the player, delivering a house edge of 0.31%. Note that online casinos will instantly reshuffle the entire shoe with each new hand, hence it is pointless to count cards.
- What most of us know as the ‘Double Down’ is called a ‘Buy’ in Pontoon. Players can Buy only once per hand. To buy is to take one additional card on the original two cards, standing on the total immediately after. The player must place a second wager, equal to the first, in order to buy. Players can also buy after splitting their cards, but only once. For example, if a player splits their cards, they may only buy on one hand, not both.
- Like its Spanish 21 cousin, Pontoon players are allowed to split any cards of equal value. Traditional pairs can be split, such as 8’s or Aces, along with any pair of 10 valued cards. This means that a player could split 10+K just as readily as J+J. However, there is no blackjack strategy I’ve ever seen that would recommend destroying a hand of 20 by splitting it up. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Splitting is allowed up to 3 times her hand.
- Aces can be split, but each hand will receive only one card thereafter and must immediately stand upon the total unless another Ace is dealt, in which case the player can re-split. If a 10 or face card is dealt onto a split Ace, it is deemed a Pontoon, not a natural blackjack. A Pontoon can only be beaten by a dealer’s natural blackjack.
- The dealer will accord to the following rules: The dealer must stand on any 17, even a Soft 17 (any hand of 17 with an Ace valued at 11). The dealer’s first card is dealt face down, while his second card is not dealt until all players have finished their own hands. For this reason, there is no insurance offered in Pontoon.
- A player’s natural blackjack beats the dealer’s natural blackjack.
- The 5 Card Charlie rule is applied. If a player’s hand is made up of 5 or more cards without busting, it automatically beats any dealer hand.
Blackjack Pontoon Pay Table
Natural Blackjack Pays 3 to 2
5 Card Charlie Pays 2 to 1
Beating the Dealer Pays 1 to 1
Note that these Pontoon rules and payouts are standard, but may vary slightly from one live or online casino to the next.