A Guide to Pontoon: Rules, Instructions & Strategy


Pontoon is a card game that’s a lot like blackjack. If you know how to play blackjack, you’re halfway to understanding Pontoon with me. It’s played in casinos and at home, and it’s pretty popular in the UK, Australia, and other places. The game’s roots go back to the French game Vingt-et-Un, which means “Twenty-One”. It’s a bit different from blackjack, but the goal is the same: get cards that add up to 21 or as close as possible without going over.

This game has been around for centuries, and it’s believed that it even popped up in Cervantes’ stories from the 1600s. Pontoon got its name from the British military who played it during World War I, supposedly as an evolution of British soldiers saying vontoon, which sounds like the French name for the game. According to a survey by long-gone Waddington’s playing card company, it ranked as the third most popular parlor/card game in the UK, behind Rummy and Whist, which I’ve also written guides on.

Quick Tip for Pontoon

Always hit if your hand is 14 or less – it’s a safe move that could get you closer to 21!

Rules for playing Pontoon

Playing Pontoon is fun, but you’ve got to know the rules. First off, the game uses a standard 52-card deck. The cards have the same values as in blackjack: an ace is worth 1 or 11, face cards are worth 10, and all other cards are worth their number. The best hand is a “Pontoon,” which is an ace plus a 10 or face card. Next best is a “Five Card Trick,” which is five cards that add up to 21 or less. If you don’t have those, then having a hand of 21 or less with fewer cards can still win if it’s higher than the dealer’s.

The dealer in Pontoon is called the banker, and they play against all the other players. The banker deals two cards to each player, including themselves, with one card face up for the players and both cards face down for the banker. Players can then “hit” to get more cards or “stand” if they’re happy with their hand. There’s also “splitting” and “doubling down,” just like in blackjack, but with some twists. For example, you can only split aces and cards of the same rank.

If you go over 21, you “bust” and lose. Once all players have finished their turns, the banker reveals their cards. The banker can also hit or stand, but they usually have to follow specific rules, like hitting on 16 or less and standing on 17 or more. If the banker busts, all remaining players win. If not, players with a higher hand than the banker win, and those with a lower hand lose.

Rule Differences in Pontoon compared to Blackjack or Spanish 21

One of the main differences is in the terminology; for instance, what is known as ‘hit’ in Blackjack is termed ‘twist’ in Pontoon, and ‘stand’ is called ‘stick’ – hence the British idiom ‘stick or twist’. In Pontoon, both dealer cards are dealt face down, increasing the house edge, as players make decisions without any knowledge of the dealer’s hand. Unlike Blackjack, there is no push bet; in the event of a tie, the dealer wins. Pontoon also requires the player to ‘twist’ if they have 14 or less, which is not a rule in Blackjack or Spanish 21.

In British Pontoon, a ‘five-card trick’ (five cards totaling 21 or less) is the second-best hand, which can beat any hand except for a Pontoon (an ace and a ten-value card, similar to a Blackjack). Payouts for a Pontoon or a five-card trick are typically better than an ordinary 21. While Spanish 21 also offers bonus payouts for specific hands and allows players to double down at any time, Pontoon more strictly limits doubling down, often only on two-card hands with a total of 9, 10, or 11, and there is no option for late surrender. These variations, in my experience, create quite a different game dynamic and strategy considerations for players used to the traditional Blackjack or Spanish 21 rules.

Equipment and Setup for Pontoon

To play Pontoon, you need a standard deck of 52 cards and some chips or money for betting. Players sit around a table, and one player is chosen as the banker. The banker shuffles the cards and deals them out. Each player places their bet before the cards are dealt.

How to Play Pontoon

Here’s how you get the game going:

  1. Shuffle the cards and deal two to each player, with the players’ cards face up and the banker’s face down.
  2. Look at your cards and decide if you want to hit (get another card) or stand (keep your current hand).
  3. If you have two cards of the same rank, you can split them into two hands and get more cards for each.
  4. If you’re feeling lucky, you can double your bet and get one more card.
  5. Once all players are done, the banker shows their cards and can hit or stand based on the rules.
  6. If your hand is better than the banker’s and you didn’t bust, you win!

How to Win at Pontoon

Winning at Pontoon means having a better hand than the banker without busting. The odds of winning depend on how you play your cards and a bit of luck. The house edge, which is the casino’s advantage, varies based on the rules but is usually around 0.5% if you play smart. That means for every $100 you bet, you might lose 50 cents on average over time.

Beginners should stick to the basics: hit when you have 14 or less, stand on 17 or more, and learn when to split and double down. Intermediate players can start using more advanced strategies, like paying attention to the banker’s up card and adjusting their moves accordingly. Advanced players might count cards, but that’s tricky and not always allowed in casinos.

Best Strategies for playing Pontoon game

To really get good at Pontoon, you need to know the best strategies. Here are some tips:

  • Always hit if you have 14 or less.
  • Stand if you have a hard 17 or more (a “hard” hand doesn’t include an ace counted as 11).
  • If you have a soft hand (one with an ace counted as 11), you can be more aggressive with hitting.
  • Split aces and eights, but be careful with other pairs.
  • Double down when you have a total of 10 or 11, especially if the banker’s up card is weak.


There are different versions of Pontoon around the world. Some places might have different rules for splitting or doubling down. In Australia, for example, they have a rule where you can’t stand on less than 14. Always check the local rules before you play.


Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a tough spot in Pontoon. Maybe you have a 16 and the banker’s up card is a 10. That’s risky because hitting could bust you, but standing might mean losing. In these cases, it’s often better to hit and hope for a low card. If you’re lucky enough to get a Five Card Trick, that’s usually a strong hand, so don’t be afraid to stand and see what happens.

Frequently Asked Questions about playing Pontoon game

  1. What’s the difference between Pontoon and Blackjack?
    Pontoon has similar rules to blackjack but with some key differences like the Five Card Trick and different rules for doubling down and splitting.
  2. Is Pontoon better than Blackjack?
    It depends on what you like! Some people prefer Pontoon because of the extra ways to win, like the Five Card Trick.
  3. Can I count cards in Pontoon?
    Counting cards is possible but difficult, and many casinos don’t allow it. It’s not recommended for most players.
  4. What’s the best hand in Pontoon?
    A Pontoon, which is an ace plus a 10 or face card, is the best hand.
  5. How many players can play Pontoon?
    It can be played with two or more players, but it’s usually best with five to eight players.

For more information on Pontoon and its rules, you can visit authoritative casino game resources or check out official rulebooks provided by casinos. Remember to always gamble responsibly and within your means.

Cassino, Vingt-Un, Brag, and All-Fours

Waddington’s Playing Card Company, UK