How to Play Pontoon
As any engineer will tell you, a pontoon is usually a very simple substitute for a more complicated bridge: the card games aren’t related, but the simplicity of the former is definitely one of the reasons for its widespread popularity.
Named for a British pronunciation of the French vingt-et-un (21), pontoon is a form of the American card game known as Blackjack, and because it generally deals out in small hands, can be enjoyed by several players at once. A Pontoon itself refers to scoring 21 with just two cards, in other words an Ace and a picture card, the best possible score; second to this is a Five Card Trick, where you hold five cards whose combined value is still less than 21.
Getting Started with Pontoon
The game begins with all players being dealt one card: this may be viewed, after which bets are placed. Since a pontoon or a Five Card Trick is the desired outcome, an Ace, picture card, ten or very low card is worth a good initial bet. Then another card is dealt, also face down: if the banker has a Pontoon, this is immediately declared, and the bank collects double each player’s stake.
Each player now has several options: if a Pontoon is held, this is shown by turning the Ace face upwards on the table. This is the winning hand, unless another player does the same, in which case the value or rank of the ten-card is taken into account. If not, the player can stick with the initial two cards, in the hope that no-one else will get closer to a score of 21. If both cards are the same, the player can split these, and play them as two separate hands.
A player can also buy a card: this requires adding to the initial stake, equal to or more than what was first bet (but no more than double.)The dealer then hands the player another card, face-down. Alternatively, a player may ask for a “twist”, which requires no further stake, but results in another card being dealt, face upwards. Once a twist has been made, no further cards can be bought: a maximum of five cards is allowed, unless the player busts over 21 at any point before this.
Once all players have completed their play, the banker deals for himself, face upwards: if he decides to stick on a number below 21, any player closer to this sum wins the value of their stake, except Pontoons and Five Card Tricks, who win double. If the dealer reaches five cards, only Pontoons can win, receiving double their initial stake. All others must pay double to the dealer.
If there are no Pontoons in any round, the cards are returned to the bottom of the deck, and not shuffled back in: this increases the chances of getting a pontoon in the next round. A player who does get a Pontoon in a round where the dealer does not has the chance to become the bank in the next round. For a relatively simple game, Pontoon offers plenty of scope for excitement and variety, and remains a staple of casinos across the once-British empire in particular.