What is pontoon?
It’s the British UK version of the globally acclaimed and extensively played casino game 21, which is best known for its American casino version ‘Blackjack.’ The name of the game was derived from the French term Vingt-et-un, meaning 21. Although pontoon is a highly interesting casino game in itself, its variant short pontoon is even more exciting as it takes the betting involved to an altogether new level by incorporating a betting mechanism referred to as shoot. Pontoon is played in almost every offline and online casino in UK and Europe, including the likes of Bet365.
About the objective of the game, the players and the dealing of the cards
The game of pontoon can be enjoyed by two or more people, with no certain upper limit on the players’ numbers. However, it has been observed that it’s enjoyed best when there are around 5 to 8 players at the table, playing with a regular 52 card deck. Two 52 card decks may be mixed together whenever there are more than 8 players at the table. These players may also require a certain amount of money or the corresponding chips for betting purposes.
The cards dealt in pontoon have the following values:
– Ace can be treated as 11 or 1 depending on the choice of the card holder.
– Tens, Jacks, Queens and Kings are treated as 10 in value.
– All of the remaining cards’ values are equal to their pip values.
The basic aim of every player is to create a hand that has a total value closest to 21, without going over 21.
One of the players is designated as the banker. He/she is usually the player who gets pontoon in the previous game. The banker of the first game is chosen randomly depending on whoever gets the highest card. In every pontoon round, the players bet on the possibility of scoring a better hand than the banker.
Pontoon hand rankings
Following are the hand rankings in pontoon:
– Pontoon, which corresponds to a 21-value hand of two cards is considered the best hand in this game. Such hand can only comprise of a 10 or a picture card, combined with an ace.
– The next best hand after a pontoon is the 5 card trick. It’s a hand consisting of 5 cards, totalling 21 or less.
– Any hand consisting of three or four cards summing up to 21 beats every other hand except the above two (5 card trick and pontoon).
– Then come hands that have total values of 20 or less and consist of less than 5 cards. These hands rank on the basis of their point values – the closer the hand total is to 21, the higher its rank is.
– All hands whose total goes over 21 points are considered bust, and are useless.
If the player and the banker both have equal value hands, it is the banker who wins. The above hand rankings can be better explained by the following example:
A-Q (Pontoon) beats 8-4-3-2-4 (Five Card Trick), which in turn beats 8-7-6 (21), which beats J-10 (20), which beats 8-5-3 (16).
The initial stakes involved in pontoon and the dealing of the cards
Please note that the cards may be dealt differently in different places/casinos where pontoon is played. While you may see the players’ cards getting dealt face down in some offline or online casino (for instance Bet365), they may be dealt face up in others.
Let’s say the banker deals a face down card each to every player. He/she normally starts dealing with the player sitting to his/her left, going in clockwise direction and ending the process with a card dealt to himself/herself. All players place their starting bets in front of them on the table. The minimum and maximum amounts for the starting bets are agreed upon prior to the start of the pontoon game, and every player can bet any amount inside these limits.
Once the first round of betting is over, the dealer deals the second card in facedown position to every player and then to himself/herself, again starting with the player sitting on his left and going in clockwise direction.
The banker can now look at his/her cards and must expose them immediately if he/she has a pontoon. In that case, he/she must collect the double of every bet placed on the table from every corresponding player.
The players’ turns of playing their hands
In the event that banker doesn’t get a pontoon, every player on the table gets a chance to improve his/her hand if he/she wishes to, by taking extra cards from the deck. This process starts from the player sitting to the dealer’s left and continues in clockwise direction till the player sitting on the dealer’s immediate right. The players can use their turns in the following different ways:
Declare a pontoon
In case the player’s two cards are a 10-value card (10, J, Q or K) and an ace, he/she must declare a pontoon by placing his/her cards on the table with the 10-value card in facedown position and the ace on top of it in face up position.
Split the cards
If the player’s two cards have an equal rank, he/she may choose to split them into two different hands by turning them over in face up position on the table, and adding another bet, same as the original one. At this point, the banker deals one more card each to both the hands, and the player plays each hand one at a time, treating them as separate hands having separate wagered amounts.
In the event that the newly-dealt cards are also the same as the first two, they can be further split into two, resulting in four different hands of a player on the table, each having its respective stake. Please keep in mind that you’re not allowed to split two 10-value hands unless they’re literally equal, for instance, you can split two Kings but can’t split a King and a Jack.
Purchase a card
The player gets the option to purchase one card if the total value of his hand is lesser than 21. He/she can do this by saying, “I’ll buy one.” If the player opts to do so, he/she must first increase his/her bet by at least equal to the original bet and not exceeding the double of the original bet.
Now, the dealer deals another facedown card to the player. The player may be allowed to purchase a fourth card if his/her hand’s total value is still below 21. This can be done by increasing the wager once more. This addition to the bet amount can be anything between the original stake and the amount added previously. So, if your original bet amount was £ 10 and you had purchased the third card by betting an additional £ 18, you can buy the fourth card by betting anything from £ 10 - £ 18. In case the player’s total still works out to less than 21, he/she may purchase a fifth card the same way.
Twist a card
If the player’s first two cards have a total less than 21 and he/she wishes to take another card, he/she can do so by saying, “Twist me one”. However, unlike as in case of purchasing the card, the player doesn’t need to increase his/her stake. The player is allowed to twist up to a maximum of three times, thus receiving at most five cards.
Stick to the cards
In pontoon, the player can stick to his/her hand if its total value is at least 15. If the player indeed opts to stick to his/her hand, the wagered amount stays the same and the next player on the table gets the chance to play.
Please keep in mind that your hand can go bust any time you buy or twist a card and the total value of your hand goes over 21. Whenever this happens, you must instantly throw in your hand and place all your cards in face up position on the table. The banker will then collect your bet amount and add your forfeited cards to the pack (at its bottom).
Please note that the players are free to buy one or more cards from the dealer, and follow it up by twisting. However, once a player asks for twisting a card, he/she cannot buy any more cards. Once you twist the card, the only option available to you is twisting more.
In case your hand goes up to the point of having five cards and doesn’t go bust still, you’re said to be in possession of a 5 card trick. You’ll not be dealt any more cards.
As also mentioned above, you’re free to stick to your hand if its value is minimum 15 and not over 21. If you choose to do so, the value of your hand and the bet amount remains the same, and the next player on the table gets the chance to play his/her hand.
In case of split hands, the two hands are played one after the other.
The banker’s turn of playing his/her hand
The two cards dealt to the banker are turned face up once all the players at the table are done playing their turns. Please note that the players’ cards aren’t visible at this point of play, except in cases where a player may have declared a pontoon, gone bust, twisted or split his/her cards. The banker’s free to deal more cards to himself/herself in face up position, one at a time. The banker can also stay with his/her hand at any point if he/she’s satisfied with it. The possible outcomes for the banker, regardless of whether you’re playing in an offline or an online casino (for instance Bet365), are:
The dealer’s hand goes bust any time it goes over 21 in value. Whenever this happens, the dealer forfeits his/her stake and distributes it among the players who haven’t gone bust yet, paying double his/her bet amount to any player having a 5 card trick or a pontoon.
Choosing to stay on 21 or less, while possessing four or lesser number of cards
If the dealer chooses to stay on 21 or less, while possessing four or lesser number of cards, he/she must pay equivalent of his/her stake to every player who has a hand higher in value than him/her. On the other hand, the dealer must collect from every player who has a hand equal to or less than him/her. 5 card tricks and pontoon are normally paid double.
What happens if a dealer gets a 5 card trick?
In this case, the dealer must only pay the players who have pontoons. These players are paid double their bet amount. All other players on the table lose double their bet amounts to the dealer.