Pontoon is a British card game that is very similar to conventional American blackjack where players are trying to get closest to 21, without going over. The game is originally derived from the French card game Vingt-et-un.
This game can be played with two or more players, but 5-8 players are generally recommended for premium play. The game uses a standard 52 card deck of playing cards (using 2 decks is recommended for games with more than 8 players). Players will also need either money or chips, to place their wagers.
Before the game begins, one player is chosen to be the banker. The banker has an advantage in Pontoon so the first banker is usually chosen by having all players cut for a high card. The player with the highest card becomes the initial banker. The minimum and maximum bets are usually also decided before the game begins.
To begin the game, the banker deals one card face down to each player. The banker should start by dealing to the player to the left of the dealer and should end on the dealer. All players, besides the banker, can look at their card.
Starting with the player to the left of the dealer and going around the table clockwise, each player (other than the banker) places their initial bets within the agreed upon betting limits. After all bets have been placed, the dealer will deal each player a second face down card, which all players can look at. Each player should now have two face down cards.
The scoring of Pontoon is almost identical to the game of blackjack. All numbered cards are worth their face value in points. For example, the 6 of diamonds is worth 6 points. All paint cards (Jacks, Queens, and Kings) are worth 10 points each. The final card, the Ace, is worth either 1 point or 11 points, at the decision of the card holder.
Pontoon is scored by adding up your total points and trying to reach 21, without going over. If you achieve more than 21 points, you have busted and lose the hand. For example, if you were dealt a Jack and a 4, you'd have a total of 14 points. The game is won by reaching a total higher than the banker, without going over 21. If a player and the banker have equal points at the end of the hand, the banker always wins.
There are a few special card combinations in Pontoon that should be mentioned. The two important combinations are Pontoons and Five Card Tricks. Aside from these special combinations mentioned below, every other hand in the game is simply scored at its numerical value.
Pontoon is when a player is dealt two initial cards that toal 21 points, similar to blackjack. This is the best hand in the game and can only be achieved by receiving both an Ace and a 10 point card (10, Jack, Queen, or King). Pontoon hands receive a double stake at the end of the hand. If you wagered $5 and got a Pontoon, you'd be paid $10 on top of your $5 wager.
The second best hand in this game is called a Five Card Trick. A player has a Five Card Trick when they end up with 5 cards, without going over 21 points. A Pontoon beats a Five Card Trick. A Five Card Trick beats a three or four card 21, even if the Five Card Trick is less than 21. Five Card Tricks are also paid double stake when the hand is over.
The third best hand in Pontoon are hands with 3 or 4 cards, that total 21. They beat all natural totals of less than 21 but do not beat Pontoons or Five Card Tricks. The next best hand would be 20, then 19, then 18, etc.
If the banker does not have a Pontoon (in which all players lose immediately), each player has several options for improving their hand. You should first begin by checking to see if you have a Pontoon. If you do, place the Ace face up on top of your bottom 10 point card. This hand is an automatic winner and you have no more options.
If your total is less than 21, you have the option of getting additional cards. Your first option is to buy another card by saying "I'll Buy One". You must increase your stake by placing a bet 1x-2x the size of your initial wager on the table. The dealer will then deal you another card face down. You can continue to buy cards until you reach 5 cards or go over 21. The second option for increasing your cards is to twist by saying "Twist Me One". With this option, your stake is not affected and the dealer simply gives you an additional card, face up. You can continue to twist until you reach 5 cards or go over 21.
If the total of your cards is at least 15, you have the option to stick by saying "Stick". By sticking, you are opting to keep your current cards and total and you will not have the option of receiving any more cards.
The final major player option is to split. If you are dealt two cards of equal value, you have the option of splitting the cards into two separate hands. To split, you must turn over your matching cards face up on the table and place an additional bet equal to your initial wager, for your new hand. The banker will then deal a face down card to each of your two hands. You now play these hands with the same options mentioned above, including the option to split another two matching cards. Note that you cannot split a non-matching 10 point combination such as a Jack and a Queen. Both cards would have to be Jacks to be able to split this kind of hand.
After all players, other than the banker, have had their turns, the banker turns his two cards face up on the table. Note that the hands of the other players still aren't visible. They are still face down unless they have busted, twisted, split, or declared a Pontoon.
The banker now has the option of adding more cards to his hand. He can continue to add face up cards to his hand until he is satisfied with his total or goes over 21 points. If the banker busts, all players are paid their winnings (even money on hands that aren't Pontoons or Five Card Tricks). If the banker ends up with a total below 21 and stays, all players will turn their cards over to determine the winners. Remember that the banker always wins in a tie situation.
After all wagers have been settled, the dealer adds all of the used cards to the bottom of the deck, without shuffling them. This provides players a strategy option to remember which cards are out of play. However, if there was a Pontoon in the previous hand, the cards are then shuffled.
If a player other than the banker is dealt a Pontoon in the previous hand and the banker is not dealt a Pontoon, that player becomes the new banker and the game proceeds.
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