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Pontoon

Introduction

Pontoon is a variant of the standard Blackjack game. There is some confusion around the game Pontoon given that the same name is given to a different game in Australia. The Australian Pontoon game will be covered separately and we’ll refer to it as Spanish 21 which is what this game is referred to as when it’s offered online.

We are currently aware of Pontoon being offered by the following online casino softwares – Playtech, Microgaming, RealTime Gaming, Net Entertainment, OpenBet and GamesOS*.

Play Structure

Differences to standard Blackjack and rules that are standard to the online game;

 

·         Blackjack (a Ten card and an Ace dealt as the first 2 cards) is called ‘Pontoon’ and paid at 2 to 1.

·         Any 5 card unbusted hand is called a ‘5 Card Trick’ and beats all dealer hands other than Pontoon and a matching 5 Card Trick. A 5 Card Trick is paid at 2 to 1.

·         Both dealer cards are dealt face down.

·         The dealer must hit Soft 17.

·         Full Peak (Pontoon’s revealed before hands are played).

·         Player can Hit after Doubling.

·         Player can Double at any point when they have 4 or less cards.

·         Players can only Double once per hand. Where Split hands are concerned this means the player can Double once on each split hand.

·         Player cannot stand until they have a total of 15 or higher unless they have a 5 Card Trick.

·         Resplit to 3 hands.

·         8 decks

 

Other than the above the game functions as a standard Blackjack game in terms of the play of hands and how wins are decided.

Rule Variations

Over and above the above mentioned rules, the following online software providers offer slightly different rules as detailed;

GamesOS* – Standard rule set shown above.

Microgaming – Stand Soft 17, Cannot hit split Aces

Net Entertainment – 6 decks

OpenBet – Standard rule set shown above but doesn’t define the number of decks in play. We assume 8.

Playtech – Standard rule set shown above.

RealTime Gaming – The Bodog group offer a 2 deck variant, but other than Bodog all RealTime Gaming casinos use the standard rule set.

* GamesOS Blackjack Switch was found to be running their game with a very detrimental rule that contradicted their game help file (tied hands considered a win for the dealer which seems likely to add 10% onto the House Edge). For more information on this issue see – http://thepogg.com/gamesos-blackjack-switch-issue/. Alongside this, many of their game help file contains content that has been used without permission from another site. See [IMAGE1] and [IMAGE2]. For these reasons we do not recommend playing with any casino using GamesOS software.

Differing Vocabulary

When playing Pontoon the names used to describe the basic actions in Blackjack are changed. Below are the alternative names;

Blackjack Pontoon
HitTwist
StandStick
DoubleBuy
SplitSplit

Optimal Strategy

Pontoon, like Blackjack, has a Basic Strategy to minimise the House Edge. However unlike Blackjack, as the dealer does not have an upcard on show, this strategy cannot take into account the dealer’s hand information. Alongside this, the increased payout for a 5 Card Trick makes this hand substantially more valuable. As such Basic Strategy is based on the player’s hand and the number of cards that hand contains. Basic Strategy for the standard rule set can be found below;

 

Player’s Hand Number of Cards in Player’s Hand
2 3 4
4-8 T T B
9 T B B
10 B B B
11 B B B
12 T T B
13 T T B
14 T T B
15 S S B
16 S S B
17 S S T
18+ S S S
A2 S S B
A3 S S B
A4 S S B
A5 S S B
A6 S S B
A7 S S B
A8 S B B
A9 S B B
AT S Bs B
88 P
AA P
T Twist
S Stick
B Buy
Bs Buy else Stand

 

The only game version that we’re aware of with any differences in the Pontoon Basic Strategy is offered at Microgaming casinos. As they do not allow you to Twist on split Aces you should Twist rather than Split.

House Edge*

The House Edge for Pontoon depends on the rule set and is shown below;

GamesOS – 0.32%
Microgaming – 0.33%
Net Entertainment – 0.36%
OpenBet – 0.32%
Playtech – 0.32%
RealTime Gaming (2 decks) – 0.65%
RealTime Gaming (8 decks) – 0.32%

Fairness Calculator

Below you can find a calculator to allow you to check the fairness of your wins/losses when playing Pontoon.

*This fairness calculator will assume that you’ve been playing with the optimal strategy detailed above. If you have not then the calculator will NOT return accurate results.

Winning Strategies

Offline

This version of Pontoon – as far as we are aware – is only available online.

Online

There are several methods of legitimately gaining an advantage playing online Pontoon games. By and large these involve the use of promotions, bonuses and comp point systems as the games by themselves – assuming the game is functioning in a correct fashion and there are no errors in the paytable – will not provide any additional information about the cards and shuffles after every hand.

It should be noted that online advantage play is not specific to Pontoon and in recent years the wagering requirements for player’s choosing to play any table game has inflated to the point that Pontoon is now often a sub-optimal choice for the player. For more information on beating online casinos see BeatingBonuses.com.

* All ‘House Edge’ figures in this article are based on the ‘loss per unit wagered’ rather than ‘loss per initial bet’.