Online Pontoon is a blackjack variant that’s a little different than another blackjack variant that’s also known as pontoon, which is played mainly in Australian casinos (and is more similar to Spanish 21 than this game). Online Pontoon is a lot like blackjack, but with a few twists that give the player some advantages in exchange for a couple rule changes that help the casino. The result is a game that is just different enough to allow blackjack players a change of pace, while maintaining the low house edge and strategic play that fans of the game love.
Best Online Casinos for Pontoon
Best Casinos for Online Pontoon
The very best Online Pontoon games are played at casinos that use software provided by Real Time Gaming, Playtech, Cryptologic or Galewind. These games have a slightly lower house edge than games provided by other companies, thanks to a few favorable rules that give the player a better chance.
Luckily, a few of the casinos we often recommend do use these software platforms. If you’re looking to play Online Pontoon, check out Sportsbook.com, all of which spread the best version of the game. The Bodog Casino also spreads the game, but with a slightly higher house edge due to one rule change (see our Online Pontoon Odds section for more details).
Online Pontoon Rules
Like blackjack, Online Pontoon is played with a shoe of 52-card decks; typically, anywhere from two to eight decks might be used. The object of the game is to make a hand worth as close to 21 points without going over, or make a hand of five cards worth 21 points or less.
After each player makes a bet, the dealer will deal two cards face up to each player, and two cards face down to the dealer. Cards are valued just as they are in blackjack, with numbered cards being worth their number, face cards being worth 10, and aces being worth 1 or 11.
The best hand in Online Pontoon is called, appropriately, a pontoon. A pontoon is just like a blackjack; an ace and any ten-point card make a pontoon. At the beginning of the hand, the dealer will check to see if he has a pontoon. If he does, the dealer will reveal the hand and collect all bets from all players. Unlike in blackjack, a player pontoon will not push against a dealer pontoon; in Online Pontoon, the dealer wins all ties.
Assuming the dealer does not have a pontoon, players now get the chance of play their hands. Players have most of the same options they have in blackjack, with a few exceptions:
- Players may hit (take another card) at any time.
- Players may choose to stand only if they have a hand worth 15 points or greater, or if they’ve made a five-card hand.
- Players may double down at any time when they have two or more cards, but they may only double down once per hand. To do so, the player must make a second bet of the same size as their initial bet, after which the dealer will give them an additional card. After doubling down, the player retains the right to continue hitting if they wish to do so.
- Players may split two cards of the same rank, and may resplit to three hands if possible. In order to split their hand, the player must make an additional bet of the same size as their initial bet; each hand will then be played independently for a single bet. Players may play their hands as normal after splitting, and a pontoon made after splitting still pays 2-1.
If a player’s hand ever goes over 21 points, the hand is said to have busted, and the player loses all bets associated with that hand immediately.
Once all players have played their hands to completion, the dealer will now reveal his hand. In most cases, the dealer is required to hit with any hand of 16 or less, as well as with a soft 17 – that is, a hand of 17 which contains an ace that still counts as 11 points. The dealer must also stand on any five-card hand.
If the dealer goes bust, all players remaining in the hand win even money on their bets, except for pontoons and five-card hands, which win 2-1. Otherwise, the dealer’s hand is compared to each player’s hand to see who wins.
Pontoon Hand Rankings
- Pontoons beat all non-pontoon hands.
- Five-card hands are all of equal value regardless of their point score, and beat all hands with less than five cards (except for pontoons).
- Other hands are ranked according to their point score.
As a reminder, the dealer wins all ties; thus, if the dealer has a five-card hand, he will beat all player hands except for pontoons, including player five-card hands. If the dealer beats or ties a player, the player loses all bets associated with that hand. If the player beats the dealer, they win at 2-1 odds if they hold a pontoon or a five-card hand, and even money if they hold any other hand.
Online Pontoon for Real Money
When playing Online Pontoon for real money, you’ll find that the rules are pretty standard across the board. Most major software platforms spread the game, so no matter what casino you play at, chances are you can play Online Pontoon there.
While there are some minor rule changes here and there, it’s hard to really say that any of the games out there are bad, since they all feature house edges of under 1%. If you want the lowest house edge possible, stick to games at the casinos we mentioned above. Specific rules to watch out for are the use of a two-deck shoe (unlike in blackjack, having fewer decks actually hurts the player in Online Pontoon), and any rules that make splitting aces less attractive (such as making a 21 after splitting not count as a pontoon, or not allowing you to hit after splitting aces).
Online Pontoon Strategy
Because the player doesn’t have any information on the dealer’s hand in Online Pontoon, strategy is actually somewhat simpler than in blackjack. The player must simply take into account the hand they hold, and – because getting to a five card hand is desirable – how many cards are in their hand. This means that in some cases, the strategies for Online Pontoon can be slightly counterintuitive. The following is the optimal strategy for every situation you might face in the version of Online Pontoon spread at our recommended casinos, including Sportsbook.com:
- 7 or Less: Always hit, regardless of the number of cards you hold.
- 8: Hit with three cards or fewer; double if you hold four cards.
- 9: Hit with two cards; double if you hold three or more cards.
- 10-11: Always double with these hands.
- 12-14: Hit these hands if you hold three cards or fewer; double with four cards.
- 15-16: Stand if you hold three cards or fewer; double with four cards.
- 17: Stand if you hold three cards or fewer; hit with four cards.
- 18-21: Always stand, regardless of the number of cards you hold.
- 13: Always hit, no matter how many cards you hold.
- 14-18: Hit with three or fewer cards; double down with four cards.
- 19-21: Stand if you only hold two cards; if you hold three or more cards, double down.
Play most pairs as normal hands. However, always split eights if you are allowed to do (otherwise, stand), and always split aces if you can (otherwise, hit).
Finally, if our strategy says to double down but you cannot, you should hit instead. The only exception is with a soft 21 when you hold exactly three cards; in that case, if you cannot double down, just stand.
Online Pontoon Odds
If you’re playing at a casino using the exact rules we’ve laid out, the house edge with optimal strategy is a very tiny 0.38%. However, there are a number of possible rule changes that are worth noting:
- Most online casinos use an eight-deck shoe. However, games with a two deck shoe (such as the one at Bodog Casino) actually have a slightly higher house edge! This may come as a surprise to blackjack players, who know that in that game, a smaller shoe is always good for the player. A two-deck shoe increases the house edge by 0.35%.
- At casinos that use Microgaming software, the house edge is 0.01% higher, as they change the rules slightly. At their casinos, you only get one card when you split aces, with no choice to hit the hand further; this rule change increases the house edge by approximately 0.49%. However, they also make the dealer stand on all 17s, which lowers the house edge by about 0.47%. The overall effect is to increase the house edge by just under 0.02% — or by about one bet for every 5,000 hands you play.