• House edge / rules
• Basic strategy
• Careful with a pontoon!
• Unusual plays
• "Video poker on valium"
• Recommended casinos
• Final thoughts


House edge and rules

»UPDATE 2006: Michael Shackleford has revised his calculation of the house edge in pontoon to 0.38%. This game is no longer beatable in combination with the iNetBet comp programme.

Pontoon is a unique blackjack game insofar as the player doesn't see either of the dealer's cards before completing the play of his hand. The game is currently offered at almost all RealTimeGaming casinos and has a house edge of 0.38% (99.62% player return) with perfect play.

The rules are:

• Eight decks
• Hard 17
• Dealer wins all pushes
• Pontoon (Ace plus 10 card) pays 2:1
• A "five card trick" (five cards in one hand) pays 2:1
• One double allowed per hand, at any point.
• Hit after double allowed.
• Player must hit to a total of at least 15.

Basic strategy

Following is the basic strategy table for this game - details courtesy of The Wizard Of Odds. The numbers 4, 3 and 2 along the top refer to the number of cards in the player's hand. For example, if you have a two-card soft 20 (A9) the correct play is to STAND. If the soft 20 is comprised of three or four cards (e.g. A,5, 4 or A,2,3, 4) the correct play is to DOUBLE. An empty box indicates a hand which does not exist, for example a three-card total of five.

S = stand
H = hit
D = double if possible, otherwise hit
D(s) double if possible, otherwise stand
P = split:

Hard totals
Numeric totalNumber of player's cards

Soft totals
Numeric totalNumber of player's cards
A10 (soft 21)DDS
A9 (soft 20)DDS
A8 (soft 19)DDS
A7 (soft 18)DHH
A6 (soft 17)DHH
A5 (soft 16)DHH
A4 (soft 15)DHH
A3 (soft 14)DHH
A2 (soft 13)HH

Player's handNumber of player's cards

Careful with a pontoon!

"Pontoon" hands - ace plus ten-value card - need to be played carefully; since any two-card total may be hit or doubled, the software doesn't automatically register a win when the player is dealt an uncontested pontoon as in blackjack - you must manually hit "stand"; see below:

A pontoon with the double, stand and hit buttons

If you press "hit" or "double", both of which options are available, the pontoon is lost. I've played many thousands of hands of this game and never done this, but playing at speed it just might happen.

Unusual plays

Some of the plays are very counter-intuitive - whoever would have thought of doubling on a hard sixteen? However, mistakes in basic strategy in this game can be very costly. NEVER fail to double a four card total under 17; the five card tricks on doubled hands form a large part of the game payout - lose them and you sacrifice a great deal of value. Take a look at the graphic below:

4-card total of hard fifteen - 4, A, 8 and 2

Hitting the "double" button here takes some getting used to - you WILL bust more often than not. However, the occasions you make your "five-card trick" and get paid four times your initial bet...

the fifth card is a five, fot a total of 20

...make up for it. Complete adherence to correct strategy is as important as it is in standard blackjack.

"Video poker on valium"

Pontoon is a very volatile game - much more so than standard blackjack. There are three reasons for this

• The dealer wins all pushes.

• "Pontoons" for the player pay 2:1, as opposed to the 3:2 blackjack payoff.

• Five card tricks also pay 2:1.

As such, the majority of the player's return comes from those relatively infrequent pontoons and five-card tricks; when they aren't hitting too often, the dealer winning those ties can cause your bankroll to drop like a stone; when they start to flow, you'll be riding high.

Comparing the volatility of pontoon with video poker is something of an exaggeration, but the two games can feel very similar sometimes.

Recommended casinos

My recommendation for where to play pontoon:

♠ Betfair Casino ♠

Final Thoughts

Pontoon is a great game, but bear in mind a couple of points:

• It's much more volatile than blackjack - be prepared for some tough losing sessions.

• Never be tempted to deviate from basic strategy. Those strange plays, such as doubling a four-card total of 16, contribute a lot to the game's payout - ignore them at your peril.

• When you're dealt a pontoon, never press 'hit!'

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