Online Pontoon is a very popular blackjack variation that has become a player favorite at many casinos. It has changed a few of the blackjack rules to make the game more interesting. Some include the dealer only having one up card and wins on ties, while players that get a five card hand or a “Pontoon” (a 21 blackjack) get paid 2 to 1.
Other rules have also been changed in online Pontoon, all of which will be explained by our in-depth guide. Learn how to play Pontoon online with our step-by-step guide and find out which online casinos offer the game of Pontoon. End it all with a look into the best Pontoon strategy to get an edge while playing.
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How to Play Pontoon Online
Online pontoon is typically played using a standard 52-card deck with multiple decks per shoe.
Card values in pontoon are ranked the same way as in regular online blackjack. This means all cards 2 through 10 are valued at their numerical rank, jacks, queens, and kings are valued at 10, and aces are valued at either 1 or 11 depending on the player’s hand.
The objective of online pontoon is to reach a total hand value closest to 21, without going over or busting. Just as in blackjack, any time an Ace combines with a card valued at 10, the result is an automatic winner, known as a “Pontoon”. The hand automatically ends whenever the dealer receives a pontoon while winning hands comprised of a pontoon pay out at 2 to 1 for the player.
Play Pontoon in Five Easy Steps
Two Cards for the Player
Players are dealt two cards face up while the dealer receives two cards face down. The dealer receives one card when the players receive their cards and the dealer receives their second card after the players complete their hands.
Evaluating the Value of Your Cards
Depending on the total value of your initial two cards, you may elect to hit and take another card, or stand and remain pat. Another crucial divergence from blackjack can be found here, as pontoon only allows the player to stand when their total sits at 15 or higher. This means that when you’re dealt two low cards, you must hit until reaching 15 or more, at which point you can elect to stand.
Another difference to keep in mind when playing pontoon is the role of five card hands which haven’t busted. Also known as a trick, a five card hand valued at 21 or lower is always considered a winner in pontoon. Even better, a five card trick pays out like a true pontoon or blackjack, offering the player 2 to 1 on their bet.
Other rules to remain aware of while learning pontoon are based on variations of traditional blackjack mechanics. For example, you can choose to double down depending on the value of your hand, but in pontoon, you can make this additional wager holding two, three, or four cards. You can even double down after splitting, or dividing a pair from your first two cards to form two individual hands.
Players are also given the option to draw and double down after splitting two aces, and in the event they draw a 10-value card in this scenario, the resulting hand is considered to be a pontoon.
Players LOSE When…
Their total matches the dealer’s total, or falls below it, with each holding four cards or less. The dealer is declared the winner whenever hands tie, and there are no pushes.
The dealer completes any five-card hand.
Players WIN When…
Their hand reaches a higher total than the dealer, with each holding four cards or less.
The dealer busts by reaching a total over 21.
Their hand reaches a total of 21 or less using five cards while the dealer has not completed a five-card trick.
While all of these subtle differences between pontoon and blackjack can be confusing at first, especially without experience playing the new game, you will be able to catch on quickly.
Pontoon has a number of rules which are different than classic real money blackjack. Use the brief overview below to learn the new rules of Pontoon. Some rules deal with terminology only, because British gamblers often use different blackjack terms. I provide descriptions of key rules in greater detail in their own section below.
A “pontoon” is what American gamblers call a “natural 21” — it is a two-card hand worth exactly twenty-one. A pontoon is an automatic winner, but it only pays 2:1, unlike the 3:2 payout for a natural blackjack in most forms of twenty-one.
The Five Card Trick
If you receive any 5-card combination which totals 21 or less, you win the hand and receive a payout.
21s with 3 or 4 Cards
If you receive a three-card or four-card hand worth 21 exactly, your hand beats any others except a Pontoon or Five-Card Trick.
Dealer Wins on a Tie
When the hands of the player and dealer tie, then the house wins the hand.
Twist a Card
Players with less than 21 can ask the dealer to “Twist me one”. This means you receive an additional card without raising the stake. Players holding 2, 3, or 4 cards have the option to twist a card.
Buy a Card
Players with less than 21 who want to increase their stake should tell the dealer “I’ll buy one”. Buying a card is legal for 2-card, 3-card, and 4-card hands.
If your hand is at least 15, you can stand at a time. In the United Kingdom, “sticking” is the term for standing pat. If you have a 14 or less, a “forced twist” is mandatory.
Players with a winning Pontoon or 5-Card Trick receive a 2:1 payout. Those who win with any other card combination receive a 1:1 payout.
The Five-Card Trick in Pontoon
The 5-Card Trick is the signature rule in Pontoon, because it makes the game much different than most other forms of blackjack. The rule allows a player to win automatically when holding any 5 cards that equal 21 or less. Only when the dealer holds a pontoon does a player lose when completing the 5-card trick.
Because of the 5-Card Trick rule, players receive two different 2:1 payouts in the game (including the 2:1 pay for a Pontoon). Having two ways to win increased payouts tilts the game in the player’s favor. To give the casino a house edge, the casino wins when a tie occurs.
Buying and Twisting Cards
Most casinos allow players to either buy or twist a card. These rules give a player the option to increase the size of their bet, when holding a good card combination. The “Buy” option allows the gambler to double or triple the size of their bet. On the other hand, the tie rule means players sometimes lose when holding a three-or-four card 21.
Twisting a card simply means you stand. Players have the option to twist only when holding a 15 or more. Since a 12, 13, and 14 is going to bust about 30% of the time, the rule that “forces a twist” is another advantage for the house.
Readers might wonder about the difference between standard Pontoon and Australian Pontoon. These two games are not the same. Australian Pontoon is the name used in Australia, New Zealand, and India for “Spanish 21”.
Best Places to Play Pontoon Online
Although online pontoon is a relatively new addition to the online casino landscape, a number of prominent casino gaming software providers currently include the game on their menu.
The top online casinos that offer Pontoon include:
BetOnline (Pirate 21)
Online Pontoon Providers
Below you can find a list of the software providers powering online pontoon throughout the world’s most popular online casino platforms:
- RealTime Gaming
Online Pontoon Strategy
Another similarity between blackjack and pontoon is the presence of a mathematical foundation of the game. In any given situation the player can face, holding any combination of cards on the table, the optimal decision can always be calculated.
While most players aren’t interested in memorizing long lists of guidelines in order to have fun, simply get to know the Pontoon basic strategy is a great way to boost your bottom line. After all, when playing pontoon strictly by the book, you can lower the house edge against you to just 0.38 percent, making this one of the most favorable games on the floor for savvy players.
Even if you don’t memorize the complete basic pontoon strategy, just knowing the general structure of sound strategy can increase the frequency of winning sessions while reducing the damage to your bankroll in downturns.
Take a look at the table below for a full visual representation of basic pontoon strategy. By observing when it becomes correct to hit, stand, split, or double down based on the relative value of your hand, you can easily turn the often unpredictable game of pontoon into a winning proposition:
Pontoon Basic Strategy
Seeing as how online Pontoon follows the same gameplay and uses similar rules as traditional blackjack, players should get familiar with blackjack strategy first. Afterward, you can start diving deep into the Pontoon basic strategy. Seeing as how there are many casino software developers that have created their own version of Pontoon online, some may have changed up the rules or house edge slightly. Even though the games are Pontoon, they diverge ever so slightly.
Pontoon Basic Strategy Charts
Be sure to have these handy the next time you are playing at a Microgaming or RealTime Gaming casino to follow their specific Pontoon strategy. It would appear that if you are able to remember and follow these two strategies, any other version of online Pontoon will be easy enough to play.
As you could see above, there can be many different forms of the same game. In this case, Pontoon can have slight differences that make it different but similar enough to still be called Pontoon. Wikipedia has a great list of Pontoon variations for you to check out if you are looking for different versions to try.
At first, Pontoon can be a bit confusing for players who’re used to playing traditional 21, so I suggest playing the free version offered by most of the best online casinos before playing for real money.