How to Play Pontoon: A Beginner’s Guide
If you're interested in finding out how to play pontoon then this guide is for you. Pontoon is one of the most popular card games to play worldwide. This guide will help you understand the game before you start playing. We'll let you know what makes a winning hand, the rules and card values. We've included a step-by-step guide for how to play, along with some useful tips and info about different variants of this game. So what are you waiting for? Read on to find out all about Pontoon, and start playing!
What is Pontoon?
Pontoon is the British version of blackjack, otherwise known as twenty-one or Spanish 21.
It's a hugely popular game at many online casinos in NZ. It's typically played with two to eight players, along with the dealer. The game uses a standard deck of 52 cards. Like in the game of blackjack, the goal is to build a hand as close to 21 without going bust.
...Like in the game of blackjack, the goal is to build a hand as close to 21 without going bust.
When you play, each player bets on having a better hand than the banker. Pontoon is the best hand. This is when you achieve 21 with just two cards - an ace and a face card or a 10. The second top hand is what's known as the Five Card Trick, when you get 21 or less with five cards. If your hand exceeds 21, you bust. And the banker wins.
Basic Rules of Pontoon
Pontoon is a simple game. The goal is to beat the dealer's hand by having a higher-value hand. All players are dealt two cards face up. The banker deals their cards face down.
Once you have your cards you need to decide whether you'll hit, stand, split or double down.
- Hitting: taking another card
- Standing: stick with your cards
- Splitting: dividing your cards into separate hands
- Doubling down: doubling your current bet to take another card
Pontoon Card Values
Each card in a Pontoon game has a different value.
- Ace: The face value of an ace is either 1 or 11, depending on what other cards you have in your hand.
- 2 - 10: Their face value.
- Court cards: Have a value of 10, the same rank as a regular 10-value card.
If your first card is an ace and your second card is a ten-point card, you score 21. This combination is called a natural and is a winning hand.
There can be different card values in different variations of Pontoon. Some casinos play that a hand of three sevens is a Royal Pontoon (applicable to all players except the banker). This hand beats everything and is usually paid triple stakes.
How to Play Pontoon
Follow this step-by-step guide to learn how to play this popular card game:
- Placing Bets: Before the banker deals, every player has to place their initial bet. The first card is dealt only after each player has bet. Depending on the online casino you're playing, there may be maximum and minimum bets to consider. Different casinos have varying minimum bet levels, so check before the banker deals.
After all bets are placed the cards are dealt.
- Receiving Cards: After bets are placed the dealer will deal two cards to each player, starting with the player on the left. They'll also deal two cards to themselves. When dealing, the banker (or dealer) puts one card face down to each player, starting on the dealer's left. All the players can look at their cards except for the dealer.
- Action: Once all players have their cards, they need to determine whether to take another card (known as a hit) or to stick with what they have. When deciding, consider how close to 21 you are. If you think taking another card will put you over 21, it may be worth sticking. But you can only stick if your hand has a value of at least 15.
You can also ask for a 'Twist' where you're dealt a card face up. You can keep doing this for a third card and fourth card, which are also dealt face-up.
- Double Down: You can also choose to double down, which is doubling your initial bet and taking an additional card. But once you double down, you can't hit again. You can do this any time in the game except if you have Pontoon or 21.
If a player wins after they double their stake, wagers are paid at 1:1. Be aware that any aces dealt after you double down only have a face value of 1, not 11.
If the dealer has a Pontoon, your original bet will be lost. But the dealer won't take the wager of your double-down portion.
- Split Your Cards: If you're dealt two cards of equal value you can choose to split them. When splitting, you must place an additional bet that's equal to your original bet.
When you split, place the cards face up on the table, place your bet and the dealer deals. Each card is dealt face down to each hand. You can then play two individual hands.
You can split again if the new cards are equal to your first card. However, you can only split ten-point cards if they're the same value (e.g. two Queens).
- Surrender: Before you hit or double stakes, you can choose to surrender. This option forfeits half of your initial bet and ends your hand. If you're not confident you have a winning hand it can be a good option.
Particularly if the dealer has a picture card or ace as their first card. You'll lose the whole wager if the dealer gets Pontoon.
It's essential that if a player decides to surrender they indicate this after the original deal. But before the next deal. Once everyone has completed their hands it's the banker's turn.
Tips & Strategies for Pontoon
If you want to boost your chances of winning at Pontoon, follow these tips and strategies to improve your game:
💡 Know When to Stick or Hit
In the game of Pontoon, it's all about timing. Learning when to take on another card and when to stick with what you have will improve your game. Typically, if your total value is between 15 and 18, it's wise not to take any further cards.
💡 Tips for Doubling Down
If you have two cards that have a total value of 11 or under, we recommend you double down your bet. This means you double your bet and receive another card. We recommend this because the chances of the dealer busting are typically higher with such a low total.
💡 Learn About Splitting
If the value of your first card and second card are the same, you can split these to play two separate hands. It's a good way to help bolster your chances of winning, as it gives you a better chance to improve your hand. And it means you can double your bet.
💡 Master When to Surrender
If you don't think you've got a winning hand, learning when to surrender can help you reduce your losses. When you surrender, you lose half of your initial bet, but it does save you from losing your entire wager.
We always recommend players surrender when the total of their hand is 15, and the dealer has a 9, 10, or an ace face up. It's also worth considering a surrender if your cards add up to 16 and the dealer has a high card or an ace.
There are several variations of this internationally popular banking game that you can play. Check out the following possibilities before you jump online:
Spanish 21 is a popular variation of Pontoon. In this game, all of the 10-value cards (including 10s, Jack, Queen and King) are removed from the pack. Players receive special bonuses when they get specific card combinations.
For example, when a player gets five cards to build a hand of 21 it pays out 3:2. Players can also make 21 with six cards and the payout is 2:1. And with a seven-card 21, the payout is 3:1.
Super Fun 21
In this version, standard rules apply, but players benefit from additional features. Players can split hands up to four times and can double down on any number of cards.
Players can also surrender after they double down. Special bonuses are available for specific hands, including using five cards, six cards and seven cards to build 21.
Match Play 21
When playing Match Play 21, each player receives two cards and then places a bet on whether or not they think their hand is going to match the dealer's hand. If it does match, the player wins. If it doesn't, the banker takes the win.
Other Guides related to Pontoon & Blackjack
At Casinocrawlers, we've created a wide range of helpful guides if you're interested in learning more about pontoon and blackjack. Check out these sites to improve your game:
How to Deal in Blackjack: Our guide to dealing can help you understand how the game works to improve your strategy.
What Blackjack Insurance Means: This helpful guide explains everything you need to know about blackjack insurance, including the advantages and disadvantages of taking an insurance bet.
When to Surrender in Blackjack: Learn about the surrender rule in detail, and discover when the best time is to surrender to cut your losses.
Blackjack Card Counting Techniques: Discover everything you need to know about card counting, including the different techniques players use.
How to Play Blackjack: If you're new to the game, discover the rules, how to play and top tips to improve your gameplay with this helpful guide.
Summary - How to Play Pontoon
Pontoon is a well-loved card game that's easy to play with a little bit of knowledge. Like the American version of blackjack, you can master the game quickly with a bit of help. For example, understanding the different card face value of cards. Or learning about the initial deal and reading up on some basic strategies to improve your chances to win more money.
As a New Zealand player, there are several online casinos where you can play and make your initial bets. Remember to check each casino's terms and conditions before you play. Look out for minimum and maximum bet limits and find the best deal possible. Good luck!
- Wikipedia. "Standard 52-card deck", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_52-card_deck
- YouTube: "Videojug: How to Play Pontoon", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcWKN_mkz_w
Senior Content Editor
Noah is the senior content editor at CasinoCrawlers and a writer with many iGaming articles under his portfolio. Therefore, he is skilled at writing bonus guidelines, gambling strategies, and casino reviews. During his spare time, he enjoys playing Call of Duty and is a huge rugby fan.Read more about the author