Rules and Strategy

The Rules of Pontoon

pontoon rules

In this article we will take a look at the rules of pontoon. Pontoon is a very interesting variant of blackjack, although the rules and games differ slightly, they both derive originally from the game of ‘21’. In all 3 variants of the game we see the setup of player vs the dealer, using a standard deck of 52 playing cards, with the aim being to get as close to a total of 21 without going over or ‘bust’.

How to play Pontoon

Before all the cards are dealt out, players place a bet or an ‘ante’ on the table. The dealer will deal a card face down to the player and one to themselves. In a game featuring multiple players the dealer will deal them all one card before dealing one to himself. The player may look at his card at this point and place another bet within a pre-defined range. The dealer then deals a second card, also face down, to the player or players and then to himself. At this point everyone can look at their hand and if the dealer has a pontoon then they will declare it immediately, collecting double the amount of the ante from the player.

If the dealer doesn’t have a pontoon then the game begins. Now the player has one of five choices:

  • Declare a pontoon if you’re holding an Ace plus a Picture card or 10.
  • Split your cards. If they’re both of equal value you can create 2 separate hands. You must place an additional bet, playing each hand accordingly.
  • Buy a card. If you’re hand doesn’t equal 21 and you wish to try to get closer while also increasing your potential winnings. You must place a bet equal to your ante per card. You may purchase up to 3 extra cards to form a 5 card hand.
  • Twist. This works the same as buying a card except you don’t pay for additional cards. In the same way, you do not win any additional money. You may twist up to 3 additional cards to form a 5 card hand.
  • Stick. As long as your cards are of a total value of 15 or above you may choose not to receive any additional cards.

You can use any combination of the 5 choices above to try to get 21 or as close to 21 as possible, sticking when you feel you might go bust on the next card. If at the end of the round you’re holding five cards with a value of 21, you have a ‘5 Card Trick’ which is the 2nd strongest hand in the game. This hand will beat all other combinations up to a 3 card 21 or a 4 card 21. The natural 2 card pontoon will always beat every other hand.

At this point the dealer can take up to 3 extra cards also to try to make a value of 21. If the dealer goes bust here, then the player receives double his bet. If the dealer sticks on a value lower than 21, whoever has the highest value on the table wins. If the dealer makes a 5 card trick and you’re not holding at least a 21 then they win.

Card Values and Hand Ranks

Here is a quick guide to what value the cards hold in Pontoon.

Ace11 or 1

Below you can see how hands rank against each other in the game of pontoon

  • Natural Pontoon – A hand comprising an Ace with a Picture card or a 10
  • 5 Card Trick – 5 cards that together add up to a total of 21
  • 3 or 4 Card 21 – 3 or 4 cards that together add up to a total of 21
  • Highest Pair – the two cards on the table that add up to the highest total
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Feel more confident with the rules? Now that you know the basics of how to play pontoon, gain extra tips and strategies from one of the articles below: