Pontoon is a British card game that is very similar to the US card game of Blackjack and both of these originated from the French card game of “Vingt-et-un”.
The object of the game is to get as close to holding 21 in your hand by adding the cards together but you are not allowed to go over this figure or you will be declared “bust” and your hand is thrown in. The game is played with a standard deck of playing cards and is normally played with up to 8 players at each sitting, if more than 8 players are present you can use two decks of cards. Each player will bet on their hands with chips or coins and you are trying to defeat the banker with each hand to receive winnings from them.
Minimum and maximum bets are usually decided before play begins, this is important as it saves on a lot of arguments once play has commenced, the initial banker is usually decided by cutting the deck of cards and they will deal the cards at all times.
The banker will deal one card to each player in a clockwise rotation, finishing with a card to themselves. The first card is dealt face down and all of the players can look at this card apart from the banker. The players now place a bet on the first card and once they have completed this the banker will then deal out a second card face down to each player finishing with themselves. All of the players apart from the banker can now look at both of the cards that they have been dealt with.
All of the numerical cards are scored at their face value, a six is worth six points, a seven is worth seven points etc. and the Royal cards are worth 10 points. Aces can either count as 1 or 11 dependant on how you wish to play your hand. To win with your hand you must beat the total score of the bankers hand, if you go over 21 then your hand is bust and is a losing hand.
There are a couple of combinations that rank above a normal scoring hand, these are a Pontoon and a five-card trick.
A Pontoon is a hand that equals exactly 21 after the initial deal of two cards, you can only get this if you are dealt with an Ace and a 10 or an Ace and a Royal card. This is the highest hand that you can gain and is rewarded with a payout double to your bet. If the banker is dealt with a Pontoon then they take priority and their hand is unbeatable.
A five card trick comprises of a hand that holds five cards with a total below 21, this is not as high ranking as a Pontoon but is still rewarded with a double payout if the banker cannot beat it.
A three or four card 21 is as the name suggests a hand that holds three or four cards that total exactly 21, this hand ranks below a pontoon and five card trick but is very hard for the banker to beat. The payout for this is equal to your bet.
Below the combinations you play with hands that total below 21 i.e. 20, 19, 18, 17 etc. These are the lowest ranked hands but if they beat the banker will still receive a win equal to their bet.
The first thing to check with your initial two cards is to see if you have been dealt with a Pontoon, if you have you must place the Ace face up on top of your other card and you turn is complete.
If your initial cards total less than 21 you are now given three options, you can buy another card. To do this you must add more stake money which must equal your initial stake and the banker will then give you another card face down to add to your hand, you can repeat this process until you have a five card trick or you are satisfied with the total in your hand. With a five card trick your turn automatically finishes but otherwise you can “stick” and leave your cards face down until the banker plays their hand.
If your total is below 15 and you do not wish to buy your next card you can “Twist”, this entitles you to another card but the banker will deal this card face up and it can give some clues away as to what you are holding in your hand. As with buying, you can stick whenever you are happy with your hand.
One final option is to split your hand, this can only be done if you are dealt with two identical numerical cards or two identical Royal cards, the Royal cards must be two Jacks, two Queens or two Kings, you cannot split the hand if you are dealt with two different Royal cards.
To split your hand you simply place your two cards separately on the table face down and the banker will then add one more card to each hand, you must place an identical bet onto your second hand to be able to play it.
Once all of the players have had their turns it is now time for the banker to turn over their cards and play their hand. The banker can add cards just like the other players until they are satisfied with their total or have gone bust. Once the banker has stuck the other players reveal their hands, any players hands that beat the banker will be paid out but if they equal the bankers total then that player will lose, they must beat the banker's score to win.
Once all payouts have been completed the banker gathers up the played cards and puts them at the bottom of the pack and without shuffling the deck will deal out the next hand.
If a player has been dealt with a Pontoon they have the option to take over as banker on the next round as long as the banker wasn't dealt with a Pontoon as well.
The cards are always shuffled when a new banker takes over but never at any other time.