Australian Pontoon is a type of Blackjack variant that is essentially an unlicensed version of Spanish 21, though it does have many of its own rule variations. Another Blackjack variant that is also called Pontoon can be found in many casinos over the internet, but it is very different from Australian Pontoon.
Australian Pontoon is great to play due to its generous surrender rules and the popularity of bonus payouts for special hands at many casinos. While the 48-card Spanish decks, with no 10-stud cards, are advantageous to the casino, other rules allow strategic players to make up for this. The complexity of the rules for Australian Pontoon make it a much more interesting game than simpler blackjack variants.
Player always wins with 21 in Australian Pontoon
Australian Pontoon has the same goals as standard Blackjack in terms of scoring, with the difference that a natural blackjack hand of 21 is called a pontoon. A difference between standard Blackjack and Australian Pontoon is that a player 21 always wins. In standard Blackjack, a dealer natural would push a player natural and beat any other 21, but the player always wins with 21 in Australian Pontoon.
The dealer has no hole card in Australian Pontoon. Due to this, many casinos have their special rules as to how bets are collected from players who lose to a dealer pontoon on multiple split hands. This could be as little as the original bets only, claiming all busted bets plus an amount equal to the original bet if not all hands were busted, or all bets will be forfeited. Players should check to see what the casino offers before beginning play, as the bet collection rules can increase the house edge.
Surrendering is a big part of Australian Pontoon. The player may take a late surrender if the dealer hand shows an Ace or a face card. This means the player will forfeit half their bet and their cards, but this acts as a protection against dealer pontoons. In standard Blackjack, players may buy Insurance if the dealer is showing an Ace, but in Australian Pontoon late surrender fills this defensive role instead. This is good, as in Spanish 21 the Insurance bet is one of the worst table game bets you can make thanks to the lack of 10-stud cards in a Spanish deck. Depending on the casino, a player may still lose their entire bet if the dealer ends up with a pontoon. Otherwise, the surrender is immediately adjudicated, and so the dealer’s actual hand will not matter.
The bonus rules in Australian Pontoon
You will find that in many casinos Australian Pontoon features special bonuses on hands that are made up of particular cards. These hands are normally 7-7-7 and 6-7-8, with higher bonuses paid out to suited hands or hands of a particular suit such as spades. These bonuses may be as simple as higher payout rates to normal, or may be even better, paying out bonus money of $1000 to $5000 on top of winnings. Different casinos have different bonus rules and offers, but the 7-7-7 bonuses are reasonably universal.
Suppose a player bets $20 and begins with a hand of 4 and an Ace for 5/15 and the dealer shows an Ace. The player considers surrendering, but the casino he plays at follows the rule that his entire bet would still be forfeit on a dealer pontoon. Instead, the player decides to attempt to draw to 21.
He hits, and gets an 8 for a total hand value of 13. He hits again, drawing another 8 to score 21 and automatically win. The dealer now draws a card, a Jack, for a pontoon. If the player had surrendered, he would have still lost his entire bet. By drawing and getting 21, the player instead won and beat the dealer natural.
The strategy to play Australian Pontoon
You should choose that casino which have the most advantageous rules for Australian Pontoon to play and avoid those casinos that use rules that increase the house edge. Examples of rules that will improve your odds are casinos using fewer than the standard 8 decks and allowing for multiple split hands. Rule differences that may increase the house edge include using more decks, restrictions on doubling down, and rules that increase the amount the dealer gets to claim when a dealer pontoon is scored.
When actually playing Australian Pontoon, you will often need to make decisions based on the dealer card that is showing. As normal, it is often a good idea to double down with a point value of 10 or 11, except if the dealer is showing a 9, 10 or an Ace. Otherwise, it is generally advisable to hit with anything lower than 15, though once 4 or more cards have been drawn it can be better to simply stand on some hands of 13 or above.
When the dealer shows a 7 to a 10, hitting on anything up to 16 is generally acceptable. When the dealer shows an Ace, though, it can be worthwhile hitting on anything up to hard 17 and even a soft 18, as the player will always win on a 21, and the dealer is not guaranteed to score a pontoon.
Splitting in Australian Pontoon can be a risky proposition, especially if the hole card rules are detrimental to the player. It is almost never a good idea to split cards when the dealer has an Ace or face card, and it’s risky even when the dealer has as low as a 9 or 8. If the dealer has a 7 or lower, however, splitting may be reasonable, though it is never advisable to split 4s, 5s or 10s. Pair of 4s should be hit, pair of 5s should be doubled down if the dealer shows 8 or less, and pair of 10s should stand, as 20 is a nice high number to win with.