Does “pontoon” mean anything to you? No, we don’t mean the floating bridge; we’re talking pontoon the card game. We’re fairly certain that if you’re into blackjack you’ve probably crossed paths with it but do you know what pontoon is? What is its relation to blackjack? And how is the pontoon card game played? All that and more will be explored in today’s blog so, if you would like to let us take you on a journey, get comfortable and we’ll unveil the history of pontoon, the game’s rules, and how it differs from blackjack. Hey, we’ll even dive into some nifty ponton strategy tips and tricks, while we’re at it!
History of Pontoon
Let’s start from the very beginning. Where did pontoon come from and how did it evolve? For starters, this card game wasn’t always called pontoon. Its original name, in fact, was Vingt-Un. Another way you’ll see it be referred to is “British domestic version of Twenty-One”. Vingt-Un was first recorded in 18th century France, Britain, and Prussia. The first, basic rules were published in 1800 in Britain, while the more complex rules were added throughout the 19th century. In Britain, the game was first called “pontoon” during the First World War. It is said that the name “pontoon” is simply a soldier’s corrupted version of its French name “vingt-un”.
The name “pontoon” is said to be a soldier’s corrupted version of the French name “vingt-un”.
However, “pontoon” didn’t catch on immediately. In 1939, the card game was still referred to as Vingt-et-Un, while pontoon was an alternative term.
The game continued to rise in popularity and by 1981 it was the third most popular card game in Britain, right behind rummy and whist. One explanation for the game’s continued popularity was the widespreadness of blackjack or twenty-one.
Pontoon Card Game Rules
The good news is that if you’re familiar with blackjack, the pontoon card game rules won’t give you too much trouble. The game of pontoon is played with the standard 52-card deck, without jokers. Usually, there are 2 to 4 players, but the game accepts up to 8 players. In pontoon, the ace may have the value of 1 or 11, while face cards (or court cards) are all 10 each. If the two cards dealt are an Ace and a face card or an Ace and a ten, the score is 21 which is called a “natural” or a “natural vingt-un”. This combination would also be called a “pontoon”. The goal of the pontoon card game is to collect cards with a value higher than the banker’s, but never exceeding 21. As pontoon is a so-called banking game, it means that there are always players and someone who operates as the banker. The banker can be chosen randomly, e.g. whoever cuts the highest valued card. Then the banker deals each player a single card which is slid face-down. The banker is not allowed to look at their card, unlike the players.
How to Play Pontoon: Step by Step
As this is a beginner’s guide, it’s only natural we break down the process of playing pontoon into several easy to follow steps. Therefore, without any more ado, here’s how to play the pontoon card game.
1. Place Your Bet
First step is to place your wager. This is done before the cards are dealt. Once every player has placed their bet, the game may begin.
2. Receive Your Cards
The banker deals two face-down cards to every player, including themselves. The cards may not be picked up until every player has their cards.
3. Decide Whether to Hit or Stand
The next step is for each player to decide what their action is going to be. You can hit (take another card) or stick or stand (not take another card and keep what you already have). Here you will need to consider how close you are to 21; if another card might get you over 21, the right move might be to remain with the cards you already have.
4. Choose to Double Down
If you decide to double down, you double your wager and take one additional card. If you do double down, however, remember that you cannot hit again.
5. Decide to Split
You can also choose to split. This can be done if your first dealt cards both have the same value. If you go for a split, you play each card as an individual hand and you have to place an additional wager on top of your original bet.
6. Know When to Surrender
Last but not least, you can decide to surrender anytime before hitting or doubling down. If you surrender, it means you give up half of your original bet and the hand is over. It’s a good course of action if you think you can’t beat the banker.
Five-card Trick in Pontoon
Surely by now you’ve gathered that the best hand you can have is a pontoon. However, there is also something called a “five card trick”. The five card trick entails having five cards without exceeding 21 points. Now the question you are all asking: “does the five card trick beat the pontoon then?” It’s true, a hand of three or four cards worth 21 points will beat everything else but a pontoon. Pontoon remains unbeatable.
Additionally, players who have pontoons or five card tricks are paid double.
Card Value in Pontoon
We’ve mentioned the most important cards before but let’s do a breakdown of all the cards in pontoon and their values:
Ace (worth 11 points or 1 point)
King, Queen, and Jack i.e. court cards (worth 10 points)
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (all worth their respective value)
Pontoon Strategy Tips
As with most card games, there are certain strategy tips that may help you when playing pontoon.
One of the most basic strategies in pontoon is taking action based on your hand and the dealer’s up card. This means a combination of:
Hitting (taking another card)
Standing (not taking more cards)
Doubling down (doubling your wager and taking another card)
Additionally, you shouldn’t be afraid to surrender, either. If you don’t think you have a winning hand, surrendering is an absolutely valid course of action.
Blackjack vs. Pontoon: Let's Clear It Up
As you can see, pontoon is without a doubt extremely similar to blackjack. However, while related, they are two distinct card games with differing rules and strategies.
If you wish to compare the two card games on your own, make sure you give our blackjack guide a read through; we’re certain the differences will be crystal clear by the time you’ve finished reading.
As always, we hope you’ve had fun, that you’ve learned something new and… good luck!