Pontoon: History, How to Play & more


Pontoon is best known as the British version of the famous casino game ‘blackjack’ or ‘21’. Based on the same principles of this game, the object of pontoon is to come as close to a 21 as possible without going over the number, and to receive a number closer to 21 than the dealer. Pontoon includes additional betting rounds and different payout schemes, as well as more betting variations than blackjack, which makes for a more exciting and interactive game.

Pontoon is played with a standard 52 deck of cards and depending on the number of players, up to two decks could be used. The game is for 2 players and up but for the maximum benefit and enjoyment, between 5-8 players should participate in a game. Players are required to have chips on hand in order to participate in the betting rounds of pontoon.

The card values are the essential tool in pontoon as it is with these values that players manipulate their totals to reach 21 or as closes thereto as possible. Aces are worth either 1 or 11, dependant on the player’s choice; kings, queens, jacks and tens are worth 10; twos – nines are worth their pip value. The aim of the game is to reach as close to 21 without going over the amount.

Hand rankings in pontoon are as follows:

  • Highest ranking hand is a Pontoon which is reaching a total of 21 points with only two cards. This hand is created when a player is dealt an ace and a ten/picture card.
  • Five card trick – a hand of five cards which total 21 or less.
  • Three or four cards totalling 21.
  • Hands with 20 points or less, and made up of less than five cards. These are ranked according to their point value.
  • Hands with more than 21 are bust and are not counted in the game.
  • If a banker and a player have equal hands, the banker wins.

Start of Play

One player is chosen to be the banker. Due to the fact that the banker has an advantage, this selection is done randomly by all the players cutting the cards. The player with the highest cut card, becomes the first banker. Players have to bet on having a hand stronger than the banker.

The banker deals one face down card to every player, beginning with the player on his left, ending with himself. The players may all look at their cards, but the banker/dealer may not.

The player to the dealer’s left begins by placing his initial bet, and this action moves around the table in a clockwise direction. Players generally agree on a minimum and maximum rate for the initial bet and player are required to remain within these limits for the betting.

Once players have placed their initial bets, the dealer deals another card face down to every player. All the players may look at their first two cards, including the dealer. If the dealer is dealt a Pontoon in the first hand, this is exposed, and the banker collects double the initial bet from every player.

Player Action

If the banker does not have Pontoon, then players may then proceed to try and improve their hands. This is done in a clockwise direction, starting with the player to dealer’s left. Players are presented with the following options:

Declare a Pontoon: If a player is dealt two cards which are an ace and a face card or ten, then they have the highest hand in the game. A Pontoon is declared by placing the cards on the table with the ten point card face down and the ace face up on top.

Split: If a player is dealt two card of the same rank, he has the choice of splitting them into two hands. This is done by placing the two cards face up on the table with a bet equal to the initial bet. The dealer will then deal another face down card onto each of the two cards. The hands are then played one at a time, as two separate hands and with their own individual bets. If the player is once again dealt a card equal in value to a present card, he has the option to split again, creating three hands. Players are not allowed to split 10 point cards unless they are identical (i.e. a player may not split a queen and a jack but may split two kings).

Buy: If a player has a total of less than 21 in the original deal, then he may choose to ‘buy’ another card. A player increases his stake by placing at least equal but no more than double his original stake on the table; and the dealer hands the player another card face down. If the total remains less than 21, the player has the option of buying another card by placing a stake between the original amount and the current amount. If a player has still not reached 21, they have the option of buying a fifth and final card in the same manner.

Twist: If a player’s total is less than 21, he may request to “twist me one”. A player’s stake is unaffected and the player is dealt one card face up. If a player’s total is not yet 21, he may request a fourth, and then a fifth card in the same manner.

Stick: If a player has a total of at least 15, he may choose to stick – to stay with cards in hand with the same stake, and the turn moves to the next player.

During the buying and twisting of cards, a player’s hand could reach a total over 21, causing him to go bust. If this happens, the player must throw in his cards by placing them all face up on the table. The dealer, in turn, collects the cards, places them at the bottom of the pack, and removes the player’s stakes from the table.

A player may begin by buying cards and then move on to twisting, but not visa versa. Once a player has began twisting cards, he may not move back to buying cards. When a player’s hand reaches five cards and the total is still not 21, a ‘five card trick’ is declared; and no more cards are dealt to the hand. If a player has split his hands and one hand goes bust or sticks, he continues to play the second hand.

Dealer Action

Once all the players have had a turn to act, the banker turns up his two cards. The other players’ cards are not visible at this point in the game except in the cases of splitting, twisting, declaring Pontoons or going bust. The dealer adds more cards to his hand by dealing them one at a time, face up. At any point the dealer may decide to stay and stop dealing himself cards.

Depending on the dealer’s final card total, the following can occur:

  • If the dealer’s card total goes over 21, he becomes bust and has to pay out an equal bet amount to all the players who have not gone bust themselves. The dealer also has to play double stakes to the players holding a Pontoon or a ‘five card trick’.
  • If the dealer’s card total is 21 or less, with four or less cards, then the dealer pays an equal amount as the stake to any player that has a higher amount. Those payers whose totals are equal or less than the dealers will lose their stakes. Pontoons and ‘five card tricks’ are paid double by the dealer.
  • If the dealer is dealt a ‘five card trick’ then he only pays out double to players with a Pontoon and everyone else (even players with a ‘five card trick’) loose their stakes.

New Deal

If no players received a Pontoon, the dealer takes all the cards and places them at the bottom of the pack, without shuffling. A new hand is dealt and for strategists, it is a good way to try and remember which cards were dealt in order to try and improve one’s chances of winning. If a Pontoon was played, however, the cards are shuffled before the deal.

If another player received a Pontoon (without splitting their hands) and the banker did not have a Pontoon, then that player becomes the new dealer-banker for the next round. If more than one player held a Pontoon, then the player seated closest to the dealer’s left becomes the banker.

The rights to the banker dealership can also be transferred after any hand to another player at a given price.

Pontoon Strategy Chart - Amaya Gaming, Playtech & Realtime Gaming Software

Pontoon Strategy Chart

Pontoon Strategy Chart - Microgaming Software

Pontoon Strategy Chart

Alternative Rules for Pontoon

Pontoon is a very simple game, but it also has a few alternative rules that occasionally can spice it up. Some or all of these rules are occasionally implemented:

  • Only aces can be split and not other pairs of matching cards.
  • A player must have at least 16 points to stick (as opposed to 15).
  • After all the players have made their initial bets, the dealer looks at his card and decides whether to double the bets. This results in the final payouts being doubled but not for Pontoon or ‘five card tricks’.
  • Varying Pontoon stakes – single or triple are sometimes agreed upon.
  • If a player holds 4 cards that total only 11 and it is clear they will make a ‘five card trick’, he may not buy a fifth card, but only twist.
  • A player’s hand holding three 7s is a Royal Pontoon and beats everything, paying triple stakes.
  • A Pontoon with an ace and a picture card beats a Pontoon from an ace and ten.


Pontoon is a great game based on the principles of blackjack, but with more exciting betting options and higher social interaction. The rules are simple and the game is fast-paced, while the alternative rules can spice Pontoon up some more. Pontoon is found on some online casinos and has recently been introduced in the Multiplayer format, making it even more exciting and interactive.

Posted by CCJ Team