Blackjack Variations: Pontoon

Yesterday I wrote about the game of Spanish 21, which is one of the most popular variations of the game of blackjack. Another popular variation that has been around for ages is pontoon. Pontoon is a popular blackjack game in the UK, though you can find it other places as well. Sometimes the names pontoon and Spanish 21 are used interchangeably, even though they are different games.

Like blackjack, the object of pontoon is to get a hard higher than the dealer without going over 21, which would cause you to bust. One major difference between pontoon and blackjack is that in pontoon, all of the dealer’s cards are dealt face down, which alters strategy considerably, since it is much more difficult to guess what hand the dealer has. The player’s cards are dealt face up. Another big difference is that there are no push hands (ties) in pontoon. If you and the dealer have the same hand, the dealer wins every time. Both of the above changes tilt the odds in the house’s favor. However, there are some rule variations that help the player as well.

In this game, a combination of a 10 and an ace is called a pontoon rather than a blackjack. Pontoon has a rule that is often called a 5-card Charlie: If you draw five cards without busting, you win and the house pays out 2 to 1. In pontoon, that hand is called a “five-card trick.” Another difference is that in pontoon, the player can only stand on a 15 or better, so if you have a 14 and really would like to stand, sorry. You have to hit.

In pontoon, the dealer always hits a soft 17. The game is played using between 2 and 8 decks. If you play perfect pontoon strategy, the house edge is only 0.3%, which is right up there with the best casino games.

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