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Pontoon: The British Version of Blackjack

December 21, 2023

If this is the first time you’ve heard of Pontoon, you’ll be twice as surprised to learn that there are actually two different versions, one being the British version and the other being the Malaysian version.

Here we will focus solely on the former, as that is the one that any casino player outside of Asia and Australasia is most likely to come across. It should be noted, though, that the rules of both differ somewhat. Malaysian Pontoon closely resembles the game of Spanish 21, while British Pontoon is more closely related to Blackjack.

Historical Background

Pontoon as a definitive variant of Blackjack first came to light in 1917 when a US soldier made note of it in his writings having learnt the game from his English counterparts. The soldier in question even made mention of how similar he thought the game was to the US version of Blackjack. By 1981 the game had officially become the third most popular card game in the UK.

Similarities with Blackjack

The general aim of the game is for a player to acquire a hand that is as close to 21 as possible which of course is the same aim shared by players of Blackjack. Other rules that align with those found in popular Blackjack variants include an ace counting as either 1 or 11, and face cards counting as 10. A dealer is also not allowed to draw more than five cards to make up their hand. A Pontoon dealer usually draws to 16, hits on soft 17, and holds on hard 17.

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Differences from Blackjack

There are some very important rules which set Pontoon apart from standard Blackjack. For a start, when a player manages to accrue a hand totaling 21 it is called Pontoon rather than Blackjack. A 21 gained after an initial hand has been split also receives a bonus payout in Pontoon, which is not the case in Blackjack.

Another fun difference is that the second-best hand in Pontoon after 21 is what is known as a Five-Card Trick. This is where a player can build a hand consisting of five cards without busting their hand in the process. It does not matter what these five cards ultimately add up to, because a Five-Card Trick always beats any hand the dealer can have apart from a Pontoon.

The payouts for a Pontoon or a Five-Card Trick come in at odds of 2/1, whereas in Blackjack a 21 is paid out at odds of 3/2. Another vital rule difference in Pontoon is that both the dealer’s hole cards are hidden from the other players. This requires players to approach Pontoon in a different way than they would Blackjack. New Pontoon players should also be aware that Insurance does not exist in Pontoon as it does at most online Blackjack tables.

Pontoon Lingo

It is not just the rules of Pontoon that differ from those of Blackjack but also the terminology that is used at the respective tables. To “twist” in Pontoon is to “hit” in Blackjack, while “stick” is Pontoon’s version of “stand”. “Buy” has the same effect in Pontoon as saying “double” would in Blackjack. These terms are especially important because a Pontoon player is forced to twist if their hand is less than 15 and they can also buy having twisted; something that cannot be done in Blackjack.