Pontoon is a fun casino game with easy to learn game rules. Online pontoon is becoming increasingly popular and is in fact one of the most played blackjack related casino games. It is advisable to play Pontoon in an internet casino before taking a trip to a live casino to make sure you are well brushed up on the rules and have a solid Pontoon strategy to lower the house edge.
When playing Pontoon in a casino it is important to get your game strategy right. The better your strategy the lower the house edge will be. Experienced Pontoon players will know whether to stick or twist depending on what their total is and will have some basic rules to follow that will higher their chances of defeating the casino.
In Pontoon, unlike Blackjack you cannot see the dealers hand. This will affect your Pontoon strategy a great deal as you are effectively shooting in the dark.
A good Pontoon strategy is one that minimizes the chances of going bust while also maximizing the chances of beating the dealers score. You also want to split wisely and also play for the five card trick when appropriate as this defeats all dealer hands and also the payouts are bigger.
If you have a 2 or 3 card combined total of 15 or more you could attempt to draw to that lovely 21 score but the odds are against you and the more likely scenario is that you will bust. Also be very cautious when it comes to splitting pairs. It is actually mathematically correct to only split pairs of 8’s.
The complete set of optimal plays is known as basic strategy, and is highly dependent on the rules.
Pontoon Pays 2:1
An Ace and any Ten-valued card are called a Pontoon, and automatically win, paid off at 2-to-1. This includes after splitting (except at a few RTG casinos), so if you split a pair of Aces and catch a Ten on one or both hands, those hands also pay 2-to-1 and automatically win. A dealer Pontoon beats a player Pontoon, however, as the dealer wins all ties. If the dealer is dealt a Pontoon, he will immediately turn it up and collect your bet.
5-Card Charlie Pays 2:1
A 5-card Charlie is defined as any hand that contains 5 cards and has not busted. The hand total does not matter. A 5-card Charlie pays 2-to-1, whether or not the total beats the dealer’s hand. In other words, if you have a 5-card 18, and the dealer has a 2-card 20, you win, and you will be paid 2:1 on your bet.
A 5-card Charlie can only be beaten by an unbusted dealer hand that also contains 5 cards. If the dealer makes a 5-card hand, he will stop taking hits regardless of his hand total, and his 5-card Charlie will beat any player hand. That is, a dealer’s 5-card total of 16 would beat your 3-card 21.
The dealer, however, only wins even money on his 5-card Charlie. Once you (or the dealer) have a 5-card unbusted hand, the count value of the hand is irrelevant. All 5-card Charlies have equal value. So a 5-card Charlie is not an automatic winner for a player, but when it wins it pays the player 2-to-1.
All Other Pontoon Winning Hands Pay Even Money
Other totals are valued just as in traditional blackjack, and if they beat the dealer hand, they are paid 1:1 on the bet. Again, the player loses all ties.
Pontoon Hit/Stand Rules
- The player must hit any hard or soft total of 14 or less. In other words, if your hand totals 14, you must act on it—either hit, double down, or split (if two 7s). With totals of 15 or more, you may hit or stand as you please.
- The dealer must stand on any total of hard 17 or soft 18 or more, and hits on hard 16 or soft 17 or less.
Pontoon Pair Split Rules
You may split any pair, and re split once (to three hands total). After splitting a pair, you may not stand on any total under 15. Split hands are paid 2:1 on Pontoons (except at some RTG casinos) or 5-card Charlie just like other hands.
Pontoon Double Down Rules
You may double down once on any hand, with any number of cards, including after pair splits. This means that if you double down on any 4-card hand, and you do not bust, your 5-card Charlie will pay 2:1 on your total bet. As an example: you have a $10 bet with 4-card total of soft 19. Since you cannot bust a soft hand, you add $10 to double your bet to $20, and unless the dealer also makes a 5-card Charlie, you will win $40 on this hand that started out with a $10 bet.
Players are also allowed to hit after doubling down. That is, if you double down on a soft 14 (A-3), and you catch a deuce for a total of soft 16, you may hit this hand, and hit again if you desire. In fact, because of the two rules that 1) players may not stand on any total under 15, and 2) players may only double down once per hand, hitting on doubled hands will be automatic if your hand total is under 15. Example: Let’s say you double down on a total of 10 and catch a 4. The dealer will automatically hit this hand again, as you have no other play option available.
Because Pontoon is a fast game, this automatic hitting in Internet casinos is sometimes disconcerting. You will double down, then immediately see multiple hits, and your hand busts. If you look at the series of cards that came down, however, you’ll see that any hit cards that were dealt to your hand after the double down card were dealt because your hand total was under 15, and you had no option but to take a hit.
Pontoon strategy is very similar to Spanish 21 strategy, but there are some crucial differences, mainly due to the no-hole-card rule, and the limitations on soft doubling.
Pontoon, on average, have a lower house edge than its American counterparts because of the no-hole-card rule, which means that you are paid out immediately for your winnings on any total of 21, regardless of whether the dealer ends up with a natural (a Blackjack). It is too late for the dealer—he has already paid you out. In the US, a dealer Blackjack terminates the game, forgoing the opportunity for you to draw to 21 and win. You lose all your bets unless you also have a natural, in which you get paid 3 to 2.
Moreover, the VIP rooms in Australian casinos offer far better Pontoon table conditions than the Spanish 21 games in American casinos. Pontoon in Australia was comparable in popularity to Blackjack, so there are more Pontoon tables available in Australian casinos than Spanish 21 tables in American casinos.