Blackjack has many variations due to the that it is one of the most famous casino games of all times and it is played all over the world. Many of them have become as popular as the classic game which is the reason why they can be found in almost every casino. All of the versions offer players the chance to experience a new way of playing the game as some of them even allow otherwise forbidden moves. For instance, in the variation Blackjack Switch, they play two hands instead of one and can exchange cards between them, something which is not possible in the classic game.
Players can try this huge diversity of variations in many casinos. Nowadays, more and more of them are available online as well. If they find any of its versions more appealing than the classic game, they can rest assured they will be able to enjoy playing it in many places, even at the comfort of their home.
Pontoon is a variation of Blackjack which grew in popularity significantly over the years and there are two versions available using the same name – British Pontoon and Malaysian Pontoon.
This can be quite confusing and it is advisable to get familiar with both in order to avoid any misunderstandings. Players located in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia play a version which is similar to the well-known Spanish 21, whereas the variation in the United Kingdom resembles the classic Blackjack. Both versions are very interesting and their different rules give players the chance to enjoy one very way of playing their favourite game.
Pontoon is famous for being the British version of Blackjack and as such, it was especially designed to suit English players’ needs. Not long after its appearance, it become very popular globally as it was one very different and enticing version of the game. The French Vingt-et-un which translates into twenty one is where the game originates and gets its name from.
The origin of the game can be traced back to the 17th century. It is believed it originated in Spain, then grew in popularity, and made its way to other countries on the Old Continent in the 18th century, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and France. Eventually, it travelled across the ocean to reach the United States in the 19th century.
The earliest ruleset for the game appeared in a book called Hoyle’s Games by 18th-century card game author Edmond Hoyle. The name “Pontoon” was adopted at a much later stage during World War I. One popular theory of how it came to be is that a British soldier mispronounced the original name Vingt-Un that came from the French language.
The first written recordings of the use of the new name Pontoon date back to 1917 and were made by a US soldier who served with the English during World War I. Said person relates that playing Pontoon was the preferred way to pass the time of a fellow soldier, referred to as “Tommy”. The US soldier also wrote about the similarities between Pontoon and the American game of blackjack.
The game enjoyed huge popularity throughout the following decades, so much so that it ranked in third place on a 1981 list of the UK’s most played card games, being surpassed only by Whist and Rummy. Contrary to widespread belief, Pontoon actually is not a variation of blackjack. In reality, both games are descendants of the UK version of the French Vingt-Un. Another peculiarity of Pontoon is that it lacks a uniform set of rules, which is why the way it plays varies from one place to another.
Similarities in British Pontoon Rules
The objective in British Pontoon is the same as in classic blackjack – players need to form the closest possible total to 21 in their hand without surpassing it. The players’ goal is to beat the dealer, who is also referred to as the “banker” in Pontoon. The way the cards are valued is also no different from the classic game.
There is no need to pay any special attention to this aspect of the game. In general, one standard deck is used but if more players are involved, one extra pack is added. Players need to bear in mind that some online casinos use a higher number of decks so it is always best to check the game rules in advance.
Some online variations of Pontoon, like the one provided by suppliers Betsoft and Playtech, use as many as eight full decks of cards. The ranking of the cards coincides with that in traditional blackjack whereby an ace can be 1 or 11, 2 through 10 are counted in line with their pip values, and K, Q, and J are counted as 10.
Under casino rules, the dealer is required to draw to 16 and hits soft 17, which is another similarity Pontoon shares with certain blackjack variations. However, the dealer is bound to stand with a card holding of hard 17 in some online variations of Pontoon. A dealer with an unbusted hand of five cards is not permitted to take more hits regardless of their total.
Differences in British Pontoon Rules
British Pontoon has some major differences compared to classic blackjack. This is the reason why players should take their time to have a look at them before playing. The game can be played with at least two players but the best number of participants is from five to eight.
The house-banked version of Pontoon, however, allows you to play heads-up against the dealer if the table is empty. Many online variants, including the ones supplied by Playtech and Betsoft, are available in multiple-hand format, allowing you to wager on up to five or three hands at a time, respectively.
In home games, one of the players needs to be the banker and has to be chosen randomly. Usually, players draw a card and whoever has the one with the highest value gets to be the banker. Being in this position is favourable as it has a built-in statistical advantage, which is the reason why it is fair for the banker to be picked up randomly. For instance, if the banker and the players tie, the rules are that the banker is the one who wins. Of course, this is not the case in house-banked versions of Pontoon where the dealer always plays the role of a banker.
Whenever players have a hand that totals 21, in this variation, it’s called “pontoon” instead of “blackjack”. Nonetheless, a pontoon is basically the same thing as a blackjack since it should consist of two cards – an ace next to a ten-point card like 10, K, Q, or J. The cool thing here is that pontoons received after pair splitting count as naturals rather than regular 21. Thus, they are eligible for bonus payouts, which is not the case in blackjack where you get even money under such circumstances.
The second-best hand players can get is called a Five-Card Trick. As the name indicates, it consists of five cards that total no more than 21. The exact value of the Five-Card Trick is irrelevant in Pontoon as any unbusted hand containing exactly five cards wins regardless of what total it adds up to.
By contrast, the pontoon’s total is always 21 made up of exactly two cards. The payout for both hands is 2 to 1 instead of 3 to 2 as is the case in classic blackjack. For the rest of the non-busted hands with totals of 21 or less, players get even money in Pontoon.
Note that the even-money payout applies only when the hand consists of four or fewer cards. However, it is always best to double-check the rules in advance as they might differ depending on the casino. Of course, busted hands exceeding 21 are immediate losers as is the case in conventional blackjack.
In contrast to classic blackjack, in British Pontoon, both cards of the dealer are hidden from the players as they are face-down. This is an extremely important factor as it changes the whole strategy for the game.
The suggested moves in the basic strategy are based according to the players’ total hand value as well as the dealer’s upcard, meaning that in this case, it should be altered as the dealer’s second card is no longer visible. Finally, the last peculiarity of British Pontoon is that it lacks the insurance side bet that is normally offered to blackjack players whenever the dealer’s first card is an ace.
Atlantic City Blackjack
Multi Hand Blackjack
Players’ Moves in British Pontoon
While the main rules of the game such as its objective, value of the cards, and others remain the same as in classic blackjack, another major difference in British Pontoon is that the possible moves players can make are called differently. This is the reason why they should get familiar with the new terms in advance in order to avoid any awkward situations.
In this version, to twist means to hit, to stick means to stand, and to buy is the same thing as to double. Players are allowed to split ten-valued cards. They can also make the move buy, followed by a twist. Another specification of British Pontoon is that players are forced to twist if their hands’ total is less than 15.
In other words, you have to draw until you reach a 15 or more before house rules allow you to stand. In fact, a player’s unbusted hand is an automatic stand whenever it contains five cards. Hitting is permitted at all times during a round, including after you have doubled down. Doubling is possible on any hand total as long as it contains two to four cards.
Additionally, players can double down after they have split a pair. However, resplitting is usually unavailable in British Pontoon. Last but not least, it is also worth mentioning that the dealer takes all ties in this card game, so do not expect to receive your wager back whenever you and the dealer have the same total unless you tie with blackjacks or 21. The house edge under this set of rules is approximately 0.36% but the exact figures may vary between variations.
Side Bets In British Pontoon
If you are keen on side betting despite its higher house edge, you most probably will be glad to learn that some online variations of Pontoon do offer additional options for wagering. One particularly good example is the Pontoon variation developed by Betsoft. This version of the game supports a group of side wagers, collectively known as the Sweet 16 side bets.
Their overall house edge is estimated at around 2.57% for six decks but the percentage is affected by the number of packs in play. The fewer decks are used, the higher the casino advantage gets. Given that Betsoft’s version of Pontoon plays with eight decks, the Sweet 16 wagers yield a slightly lower edge of 2.52%.
As usual, the player is required to post the chips for their side bet before any cards are dealt to their hand. The Sweet 16 side wagers pay based on the first two cards dealt to the hand. The payouts vary depending on the particular cards.
A two-card total of 16 through 21 pays even money. The same goes for a hand that contains a single ace. A pair of two aces produces a payout of 2 to 1. Low pairs of 2s through 7s result in a push, and therefore, do not return payouts.
Online Variations of Pontoon
Most online variants of this bespoke game play under a uniform set of rules so do not expect to see many deviations from the ruleset described above. If unsure about the rules, you can always check them out in advance by opening the game’s Help menu.
Playtech’s is one of the best online variants of Pontoon in terms of authenticity and gameplay. This variation plays with eight decks and pays at standard odds for all winning hands described above.
It supports multi-hand play and has an array of great features including the option to change the felt’s colour of the table. As for the betting range, many Playtech casinos accept wagers between £2 and £100 but these limits might differ on some Playtech-powered sites.
As for Betsoft’s variation, it also plays with eight decks and allows for bets on a maximum of three hands per round. This version is not as rich in terms of features as Playtech’s but it still gives you the chance to modify the speed of the gameplay and turn off the background music and the sound effects. You can bet anywhere between £1 and £50.
Even though it can be quite confusing to have two versions of blackjack with the same name, players can easily tell them apart by the terms of the moves they use. As already mentioned, British Pontoon uses different names, whereas the moves in the Malaysian version have the same name as in the classic game.
Malaysian Pontoon resembles the rules of the famous version of blackjack, Spanish 21, as it excludes the ten-value cards from the deck. The number of decks in use is usually six or eight but varies depending on the casino. Each deck in play contains only 48 rather than 52 cards. These are known as Spanish decks, hence the name of the game. A similar variation is also played in some Australian casinos.
The cards are often dealt from a Continuous Shuffling Machine, which is detrimental to the player. Of course, the removal of the four tens is also detrimental, which is why this version of the game features several unique good rules and bonus options. The table can usually accommodate six or seven players at a time, similarly to standard blackjack. More often than not, the dealers in Malaysian Pontoon are bound to hit soft 17 instead of standing.
In this version, there is no hole card, meaning that the dealer does not peek for blackjack. In general, this rule favours the casino as in such cases players can lose more money by doubling down or splitting against the dealer’s card. In contrast to Spanish 21, in most casinos, the move re-splitting is not allowed in this version.
Resplitting or hitting previously split aces is also disallowed in this version. There may be limitations on doubling as well, with some casinos permitting this move only on totals of 9, 10, and 11. Others would allow doubling on any total including hands that contain more than two cards, a rule variation known as Not Last Chance Doubling (NLC).
There are also some restrictions when it comes to the option to surrender as players can only do so if the dealer’s upcard is a face card or an ace and in cases where the dealer has a pontoon, players don’t get to take half of their bet as they lose it all instead.
Since no hole cards are in play, some casinos offering the game support several extra rules to make it more attractive to players. The first one is the Original Bets Only (OBO) rule whereby you lose only your initial bet against the dealer’s blackjack.
The bets made on doubles and splits are returned. The second version is the Original and Busted Bets Only, which is quite similar. The only difference is that whenever the player loses to the dealer’s blackjack, they lose only their split bet on busted split hands along with their initial wager.
The bets from unsuccessful double downs against the dealer’s blackjack are restored. Some casinos that offer this version of Pontoon abide by the Busted Bets+1 rule where the player loses only their busted wagers in addition to one more wager (if it is made).
As for the payouts on winning player hands, these coincide with the casino odds in the other version of Pontoon. When the player holds a total of 21 or a pontoon they win immediately even if the dealer also has 21 or pontoon. Another peculiarity of this game is that it usually offers additional payouts for specific card combinations as follows:
- Five cards that add up to a total of 21 pay 3 to 2. A six-card total of 21 results in a payout of 2 to 1 whereas a seven-card 21 returns a payout of 3 to 1. The players should keep in mind these extra payouts are not in force on hands they have doubled on.
- Offsuit combinations of three 7s or 8-7-6 offer a prize of 3 to 2. Provided that the cards are suited, the hand returns 2 to 1 unless the suit is spades, in which case you get a prize of 3 to 1.
- Finally, a hand of three suited 7s versus the dealer’s 7 offers higher payouts, usually ranging from £1,000 to £5,000, depending on the size of the winning bet. Other seated players are in for a prize of £50 each, even if they have other card combinations. This is known as the “envy” bonus payout. However, these larger prizes are not in place if you split or double down on your hand.
Strategy for Malaysian/Australian Pontoon
These and many other specifications are the reason why it is compulsory for players to get familiar with every subtlety regarding this version. Moreover, they need to bear in mind that some rules vary depending on the casino the game is played at.
For instance, some places may allow re-splitting once whereas others forbid this move entirely. Just like any other variation, this one also requires adjustments of the basic strategy so that players can make the best possible moves for a particular hand. The following table contains the accurate basic strategy plays for Malaysian/Australian Pontoon games.
It shares many similarities with the strategy recommended for Spanish 21 played in North American casinos but not everything coincides. As you shall see, the abbreviations of the moves are a bit different than those in standard blackjack. Feel free to check the legend under the chart.
|Basic Strategy for Malaysian/Australian Pontoon|
|Player’s Hard Total||Dealer’s Upcard|
|Player’s Soft Total||Dealer’s Upcard|
|A-2, A-3, A-4, A-5, A-6||H||H||H||H||H||H||H||H||H||H|
|Player’s Paired Cards||Dealer’s Upcard|
|Player’s Hand||Dealer’s Upcard|
|Late Surrender Strategy|
|12, 13, 14, 15, 16||S||S||S||S||S||S||R||R||R||R|
Both versions of Pontoon provide players with the unique chance to experience a different side of blackjack and enjoy this classic game in a very extraordinary way. As there are two variations with the same name, it is really important that players are able to distinguish them to avoid any misunderstandings. It is also essential to take their time to adjust the basic strategy accordingly to be able to reduce their chances of losing money.