Pontoon – Detailed Review of the Card Game

By: Stephen Charlesworth / Last Update: 11 Dec 2015

Online Pontoon – Playtech's Card GamePontoon is one of the most interesting derivatives of blackjack, and also one of the most advantageous casino games for the players. Compared to other blackjack variations, it has a pretty low house edge, of course depending on the casino where you choose to play at.

In this review, we’ll take a look at the rules for playing Playtech’s version of Pontoon in specific. There are Pontoon games offered by other software providers, but they have lower theoretical RTP than Playtech’s variation. Therefore, your best choice for playing Pontoon online for real money is to pick a casino powered by this specific software house. But before we continue with this review in detail, let’s have a quick overview of the rules of the game.

Overview of the Card Game Pontoon
  • Basic Game Rules
  • Return to Player: 99.64% Pontoon pays: 2 to 1
  • Decks: 8
  • Insurance: No
  • Multihand: Yes
  • Side bets: No
  • Surrender: No
  • Split and Double Rules
  • Split: any pair
  • Resplit: Up to 3 hands
  • Double: any two cards
  • Double after split: Yes
  • Hit split aces: Yes
  • Dealer Rules
  • Hits: soft 17
  • Peeks for Blackjack: yes
  • Special Game Rules: Both dealer cards are face down. 5-Card Charlie rule. When push, dealer wins.
Which is the Best Casino to Play Pontoon?
  • Bonus: 100% up to £150
  • Bonus code: not required
  • Wagering contribution: 5%
  • Software:Playtech

How to Play Pontoon?

As we already mentioned, Pontoon is a variation of blackjack and as such it features a lot of elements of the classic casino game, from the table layout to the basic rules, but also some substantial differences. In the game of Pontoon, just like in classic blackjack, your goal is to have a hand that totals 21 or at least one that’s higher than the dealer’s. All cards count as their natural numbers and aces count as 1 or 11. A hand consisting of an ace and a ten-valued card is the highest hand, called Pontoon, and it pays 2:1. This is actually the first difference with most blackjack variations, as that hand usually pays 3:2.

Pontoon Game Rules – Pontoon Pays 2:1

As far as the table layout goes, Playtech’s Pontoon has five betting slots which means that you can play with up to five hands at the same time. The betting limits at most Playtech casinos for this game start at £1 and reach as high as £100 which is a relatively good bet range. I personally also like that the user can turn on ‘fast play’ at this table – an option that is particularly handy when you’re wagering a bonus. Another particularity of the table itself is that you have the option to change its color from the standard green to blue, purple, black, orange, blue-green, white and red. Though this is a purely superficial option and has nothing to do with the gameplay itself, it gives the users the opportunity to further optimise the table to their liking.

Pontoon – Table Layout of the Blackjack Game

Now, to the more important options. The game starts after you’ve placed your bet (or bets, if you’ve chosen to play multi-hand). When you click on the ‘Deal Button’ you will be given two cards face up while the dealer will get two cards face down (another difference with classic blackjack where only one of the dealer’s cards is facing down). After the cards are dealt, you’ll have to choose your move depending on the hand you got: hit (receive another card), stand (accept your hand as it is), double your bet and receive another card or split if your two card have the same rank. Note that you cannot stand until you have a hand totaling 15 or more.

Hit, Double or Split – Pontoon Play Options

Another interesting rule in Pontoon is that you can hit after double. In all blackjack variations I’ve played and reviewed so far, when you double you only get one additional card and then it’s the dealer’s turn. Of course, this means that in this respect, Pontoon is more advantageous than other blackjack variations. Two rules that make up for that are definitely that there’s no insurance option in Pontoon and that when you have the same hand value as the dealer’s, the dealer wins, as opposed to you getting your initial bet back.

Pontoon Rule – If Player and Dealer Have Same Count Hands Dealer Wins

There are a few more advantageous rules in Pontoon, one of which is that if you get an ace and a ten after a split, the new hand will be counted as Pontoon as opposed to a regular one. The other important rule that gives the players a great edge is that a Five Card Charlie (also called Five Card Trick), i.e. a hand lower than or equal to 21 consisting of five cards, beats all hands except Pontoon and on top of that pays 2:1.

Five Card Charlie – Playtech's Pontoon Game

As in any other blackjack variation, in Pontoon there are not only rules for the players but for the dealers as well. First of all, even before the player makes their move, the dealer peaks for Pontoon. Then, there’s the rule that the dealer is obliged to hit any hand with a total of 16 or lower and a soft seventeen. And finally, as I already mentioned, when there’s a tie, the dealer wins.

Theoretical Return-to-Player Percentage

As we all well know, the house edge of every blackjack variation depends on the rules of the specific game. Some rules decrease the house edge and are therefore advantageous for the player while others increase it. In Playtech’s Pontoon, there are several rules increase the house edge. First of all, the fact that this card game is played with 8 decks gives the house an advantage of 0.65%. Then, there’s the ‘dealer hits soft seventeen’ rule which further increases the house edge with 0.22%. Other rules that reflect negatively on the return-to-player percentage are the fact that you can resplit once, that the dealer peeks for blackjack and that there are no insurance nor surrender options. But the most devastating rule of all is the one stating that in the case of a tie, the dealer wins which alone increases the house edge by the 8.8%! Worry not, though, because the game also has its fair share of rules that are advantageous for the player.

Let’s start with the fact that a Pontoon (i.e. a blackjack) pays 2:1 which alone increases the house edge by 2.27%. Then there are the doubling rules: you gain 0.23% advantage because of the fact that you can double on any number of cards and further 0.14% because you can double after split. One of the most advantageous rules is also the Five Card Charlie rule which alone decreases the house edge with 1.46%.

Another set of rules that are very advantageous for the player are the ones regarding splitting aces. First of all, in Pontoon, you are allowed to hit split aces which increases the advantage of the player by 0.19%. Then there’s the rule that you can double after splitting aces which decreases the house advantage by 0.15% and the rule that you can resplit aces which gives you an advantage of further 0.08%.

At the end of the day, when you calculate the impact of the specific rules on the house edge of the game, you’ll receive a return-to-player percentage for Pontoon that is 99.64%, i.e. the game has a house edge of a mere 0.36% which is one of the lowest you can find at online casinos, as well as at land-based ones, for that matter.

Pontoon Basic Strategy

As you may notice yourself, the strategy chart for Pontoon looks quite different than the usual blackjack basic strategy chart. This is due to the fact that in Pontoon you cannot see any of the dealer’s cards and, therefore, you have to base your decision purely on the chances of your hand alone. Additionally, due to the Five Card Charlie rule, it is of great importance how many cards you hold, as the more they are, the bigger are your chances for a win and often it is worth it even to double down. So here it is, the basic strategy chart for the card game Pontoon by Playtech which can secure you a return-to-player percentage of 0.36%:

Strategy Card for Playtech’s Pontoon Game

Playtech Pontoon – Basic Strategy Card

Interesting Welcome Offers for Playing Pontoon

If you want to play Playtech’s Pontoon for real money, there are quite a few casinos that you can choose from. After all, Playtech is the most widely adopted casino software and there are hundreds upon hundreds of operators that use their platform. Still, even though the game is virtually the same no matter where you choose to play it, some casinos offer you more promotions and more generous bonuses which you can use to play even more. Here are our top 4 choices:

An important fact that you should know about those casinos is that at all of them, Pontoon contributes toward the wagering requirement at a rate of only 5%. This is more than usual because that’s to a great extent a game of strategy and doesn’t hold the same risks as some other casino games like slots for example. Anyway, with a perfect strategy and some bonus cash to play with, you might actually have a great chance to end up with a win.

Playtech’s Pontoon – A Game to Try

Pontoon is one of the most interesting and also convenient blackjack derivatives out there. Though some of the rules are quite unusual for most blackjack variations, this card game offers you the same perks as the classic 21, like a low house edge and the chance to use strategy and not only depend on your luck. This is definitely a game to try!