Pontoon Basic Strategy and Rules with Free Strategy Card for Internet and land casinos
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Pontoon Basic Strategy and Rules

 
How to Play Pontoon: Basic Strategy and Rules for Internet and Land Casinos (RTG and Cryptologic Software
 
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How to Play Pontoon: Basic Strategy with Strategy Card

By Arnold Snyder
(From How to Beat Internet Casinos and Poker Rooms , 2005)
© 2005 Arnold Snyder

Go straight to Pontoon Basic Strategy Card

Pontoon is an interesting eight-deck blackjack variation youíll find on the Internet and outside the U.S. You may elect to play Pontoon in an online casino for various reasons.

At some online casinos, where traditional blackjack play does not count toward meeting your wagering requirement for a bonus, Pontoon may be allowed. In this case, it is an excellent choice for two reasons. First, the house edge on this game is very low when you employ correct basic strategy--in fact, lower than traditional eight-deck blackjack games, only 0.17%. (Note: At some RTG casinos, a 2-card 21 after splitting aces is not considered a pontoon. At these casinos, the house edge on Pontoon is 0.62%.) Second, the strategy is easy to learn. Pontoon is also just plain a lot of fun.

One thing that you should know is that the fluctuations on Pontoon are much higher than traditional blackjack. This is due to much of your advantage coming from very liberal double down options and 2:1 payoffs on special hands. Because of the increased flux, if youíre playing on a tight bankroll, then you may prefer a traditional blackjack game, even with a typical house edge of 0.50%, if available. The fluctuations on Pontoon are much less drastic than the fluctuations on any form of video poker, however.

The name Pontoon was once the common name for blackjack in Australia. But, if you are accustomed to blackjack, Pontoon will seem downright weird. The game is dealt from eight standard 52-card decks, and both the player and dealer get two cardsóbut the dealer has no up-card. Also, the dealer wins on ties. That sounds bad, and it is, but there are lots of great compensating rules. The cards are valued the same as in traditional blackjack, and the hands are totaled the same way.

Pontoon Pays 2:1

An Ace and any Ten-valued card are called a Pontoon, and automatically win, paid off at 2-to-1. This includes after splitting (except at a few RTG casinos), so if you split a pair of Aces and catch a Ten on one or both hands, those hands also pay 2-to-1 and automatically win. A dealer Pontoon beats a player Pontoon, however, as the dealer wins all ties. If the dealer is dealt a Pontoon, he will immediately turn it up and collect your bet.

5-Card Charlie Pays 2:1

A 5-card Charlie is defined as any hand that contains 5 cards and has not busted. The hand total does not matter. A 5-card Charlie pays 2-to-1, whether or not the total beats the dealer's hand. In other words, if you have a 5-card 18, and the dealer has a 2-card 20, you win, and you will be paid 2:1 on your bet.

A 5-card Charlie can only be beaten by an unbusted dealer hand that also contains 5 cards. If the dealer makes a 5-card hand, he will stop taking hits regardless of his hand total, and his 5-card Charlie will beat any player hand. That is, a dealerís 5-card total of 16 would beat your 3-card 21.

The dealer, however, only wins even money on his 5-card Charlie. Once you (or the dealer) have a 5-card unbusted hand, the count value of the hand is irrelevant. All 5-card Charlies have equal value. So, a 5-card Charlie is not an automatic winner for a player, but when it wins, it pays the player 2-to-1.

All Other Pontoon Winning Hands Pay Even Money

Other totals are valued just as in traditional blackjack, and if they beat the dealer hand, they are paid 1:1 on the bet. Again, the player loses all ties.

Pontoon Hit/Stand Rules

The player must hit any hard or soft total of 14 or less. In other words, if your hand totals 14, you must act on itóeither hit, double down, or split (if two 7s). With totals of 15 or more, you may hit or stand as you please.

The dealer must stand on any total of hard 17 or soft 18 or more, and hits on hard 16 or soft 17 or less.

Pontoon Pair Split Rules

You may split any pair, and resplit once (to three hands total). After splitting a pair, you may not stand on any total under 15. Split hands are paid 2:1 on Pontoons (except at some RTG casinos) or 5-card Charlies just like other hands.

Pontoon Double Down Rules

You may double down once on any hand, with any number of cards, including after pair splits. Note that this means that if you double down on any 4-card hand, and you do not bust, your 5-card Charlie will pay 2:1 on your total bet. Example: you have a $10 bet with 4-card total of soft 19. Since you cannot bust a soft hand, you add $10 to double your bet to $20, and unless the dealer also makes a 5-card Charlie, you will win $40 on this hand that started out with a $10 bet.

Players are also allowed to hit after doubling down. That is, if you double down on a soft 14 (A-3), and you catch a deuce for a total of soft 16, you may hit this hand, and hit again if you desire. In fact, because of the two rules that 1) players may not stand on any total under 15, and 2) players may only double down once per hand, hitting on doubled hands will be automatic if your hand total is under 15.

Example: Letís say you double down on a total of 10 and catch a 4. The dealer will automatically hit this hand again, as you have no other play option available.

Because Pontoon is a fast game, this automatic hitting in Internet casinos is sometimes disconcerting. You will double down, then immediately see multiple hits, and your hand busts. If you look at the series of cards that came down, however, youíll see that any hit cards that were dealt to your hand after the double down card were dealt because your hand total was under 15, and you had no option but to take a hit.

Pontoon Basic Strategy
For Online Games


 Total Player Cards
Player Total 4 3 2

21

S

S

S

20

S

S

S

19

S

S

S

18

S

S

S

17

H

S

S

16

D

S

S

15

D

S

S

14

D

H

H

13

D

H

H

12

D

H

H

11

D

D

D

10

D

D

D

9

D

D

H

8

D

H

H

7

H

H

6

H

H

5

H

4

H

A,10

D

Ds

S

A,9

D

D

S

A,8

D

D

S

A,7

D

H

H

A,6

D

H

H

A,5

D

H

H

A,4

D

H

H

A,3

D

H

H

A,2

H

H

8,8

Ps

A,A

Ph

Key

H  Hit

S  Stand

D  Double if allowed, otherwise hit

Ds Double if allowed, otherwise stand

Ph Split if allowed, otherwise hit

Ps Split if allowed, otherwise stand

Notes on Pontoon Basic Strategy

Since we see no dealer upcard in Pontoon, our Pontoon basic strategy is based entirely on the number of cards that make up our hand. Note that with a 4-card hand we double down on all soft hands and any hard hand that does not total 17 or more. This is not an error.

Regarding the soft doubling with 4-card hands, since we cannot bust a soft hand, we are assured of making a 5-card Charlie if we double down. Provided the dealer does not make a 5-card Charlie, thatís an automatic 4:1 payout on our original bet. It doesnít get any better than that.

A couple of Pontoon fine points: If you double down on a 3-card soft 19 in Pontoon, and you catch an Ace or a deuce to give yourself a 4-card soft 20 or 21, you should definitely hit this hand, as you still cannot bust and you will make a 5-card Charlie.

Note that the only 4-card hands that you ever stand with in Pontoon are hard totals of 18 or more. We even hit a 4-card hard 17 in Pontoon, and we double down on a 4-card hard 16! (Correct Pontoon strategy can be shocking for a long-time blackjack player!) So, if after doubling on any 3-card hand in Pontoon, your hand does not yet total hard 18 or more, hit that Pontoon hand again. ♠

For more information on beating pontoon and other blackjack variations, see How to Beat Internet Casinos and Poker Rooms (for online versions of the games) or The Big Book of Blackjack (for brick-and-mortar casinos), by Arnold Snyder.

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Online Pontoon Strategy

Arnold Snyder provides optimal online pontoon strategy and rules.