Pontoon Blackjack

Not to be confused with the flotation device or flat-bottomed boat of the same name – pontoon for our purposes is an exciting blackjack game, strongly based on Spanish 21 play. Most popular in casinos in Australia and Malaysia, with a somewhat different version prevailing in the UK, there are also plenty of Canadians who have a penchant for the game. If you’re one such Canuck, then lucky for you, as online pontoon games are easily available at these top-rated pontoon casinos. 

Rules of Pontoon Blackjack

First, it’s important to get one thing straight, there are in fact two different versions of Pontoon out there. One is played predominantly in Malaysian and Australian casinos, and the other is a mainstay at UK casinos. For our purposes, we’re going to go with the version more prevalent online, as we’re assuming that’s where you’ll want to play. And these are some of the basics you should know to get started:

  • Twist, stick and buy – Brits, as you know, have some of their own language quirks, and in this case, you’ll find different blackjack terminology like twist (instead of hit), stick (instead of stand) and buy (to double, not double-down, on your bet). And of course, you’ll want a pontoon instead of a blackjack, as hitting 21 in this game is called just that.
  • Dealer’s cards remain face-down – At a regular blackjack table, you can get a hint of what the dealer’s holding, from his one face-up card. In pontoon, however, both dealer cards remain face-down, adding extra mystery to the game, and making strategy more difficult.
  • Doubling down – You can double-down before taking subsequent hits. Plus, as opposed to standard blackjack, you can double-down with more than two cards in-hand, and aren’t limited to the option of doubling down only on your original two cards.
  • Forced hit – If your hand is valued at 14 or less, then there’s no choice in the matter; you must hit/twist.
  • Splitting Aces – Splitting Aces means neither hand can now be a blackjack paying hand, in standard blackjack play. Here, however, you can split Aces, and both hands can achieve a full pontoon payout of 2:1.
  • Dealer wins on a tie – While Spanish 21 favours the player in a tying hand, and standard blackjack offers a push, pontoon blackjack does no such thing, with ties paying out to the dealer, even on a 21.
  • Five-card trick/ – Also known as a five-card Charlie, for those into fanciful play, you’ll like this one. Collect a 5-card hand without going over 21 and you’ll get a payout of 2:1, even over the dealer’s non-pontoon 21.

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Odds in Pontoon Blackjack

The house edge varies depending on which type of pontoon you’re playing, the number of decks being used, and where exactly you’re playing, as rules may fluctuate between different casino establishments.

In most online play, the fact that a tie always goes to the dealer creates a strong house advantage. To counter this, pontoon hands with an Ace + 10 value pay at a rate of 2:1, which is higher than the standard 3:2 blackjack odds. You can also enjoy the 2:1 payout odds when splitting Aces (as above), which gives you another slight edge to collect on.  And while the lack of a hole card gives the house an advantage, the fact that the dealer immediately declares a pontoon (if he has a natural 21), evens things out to your advantage. As for the bottom-line stats, overall, the online pontoon will have a 0.17% up to 0.62% house edge. Pretty good for you.

Variations of Pontoon Blackjack

Pontoon is considered by many to be an offshoot of Spanish 21 and similar to Spanish blackjack (close, but not exactly the same thing). This, however, is more true of the Australian/Malaysian casino versions than the UK version of the pontoon card game.

Even online pontoon games may differ slightly in terms of rules, so it’s well-advised to read up on the game’s rules before you get started. Unfortunately, not all online casinos will have pontoon available (though the recommended ones above do). To find one, check under the ‘Card games’ tab. Most Playtech casinos, for example will have a standard online pontoon game there. But if you can’t find pontoon per se, it’s always reasonable to try a game like Online Spanish 21 Blackjack, found at Microgaming casinos, instead.

Top 5 Pontoon Blackjack Tips

  • Practice with free pontoon– Reading up on the game is one thing, but practice is where you’ll improve. Get started with free pontoon online, before betting your bucks.
  • Get an added boost on your bonus clearing – All bonuses come with a wagering requirement. And usually, pontoon counts more towards clearing your wagering requirement than a classic blackjack game.
  • Bet according to your cards – You can’t see the dealer’s cards, and the dealer wins on a push, so you need to make all your moves with this (lack of) knowledge in mind.
  • Learn to play three and four-card hands – This is a game with lots of hits, splits and doubles. You’ll need to adapt your style of play, as such.
  • Pick up from the pros – This game wasn’t invented yesterday. In fact, since so much money is at stake, it’s a well-studied field. And what all that study has done is create comprehensive blackjack strategies and charts, outlining your best move on any hand. So while there’s certainly room for gut and instinct, the stats are also a good starting guide.

Conclusion

Similar, but oh so unique, the pontoon is a great way to get your blackjack thrills, with something quite different on-hand. Build yourself a five-card Charlie, twist, stick or buy. But whatever you do, make sure to do it at one of our preferred pontoon casinos, open to Canadian players.