Pontoon (Twenty-One)

Pontoon Rules, Terms and Game Play

Pontoon also known as “Twenty-One” is a fun variation of the popular casino game blackjack. The game of pontoon and its name are derived from the French Vingt-et-Un (Twenty-One). The object of the game is to get a hand that is valued as close to 21 as possible without going over.

Pontoon Rules, Terms and Game Play

As you may know, exceeding a hand value of 21 is also known as busting in this classic casino card game. A lot of the terminology overlaps with that of blackjack, so you may be asking yourself:

What is the difference between pontoon and blackjack?

Online pontoon is usually played with 6-8 decks of cards. The rules are generally like blackjack with the following exceptions:

  • Hands can be "soft" if an ace is being used as 11, or "hard" if not.
  • Dealer must twist (hit) on 16 and soft 17 and stick (stand) on hard 17 and over.
  • Pontoon (Ace and a picture card or a Ten) pays 2:1, as does a 5 Card Trick (5-cards totaling 21 or under).
  • Player must twist on 14 or less.
  • Player can buy (double) any time on hard hands, but not soft.
  • Player can twist after buying.
  • Player can split two times at most.
  • Dealer wins ties.
  • Insurance is not available.
  • Player must stick on soft 21.

When playing online pontoon, the player must place a wager and once the wager is made, the player is dealt two cards face up. The dealer is also dealt two cards however they are placed face down.

All face cards are valued at ten and all other cards have their face value, except for Ace, which can be 1 or 11. If at the end of twisting and sticking, the player's hand is closer to 21 than the dealer's, the player's wager is paid out at 1:1.

If the player goes over 21, or busts as the phrase is in this game, then the wager is lost. If the dealer goes over 21, the player's wager is paid out at 1:1.

Unique Pontoon Terms to Learn

Despite the many similarities between pontoon and blackjack you may have noticed a few unfamiliar terms, which are explained briefly below:

Pontoon Term: Twist

The player must twist if they have a total of 14 or less, otherwise they may stick if they wish to do so. They cannot twist if they have five-card 21 or under. The online casino software recognizes that the player has a Five Card Trick.

Pontoon Rules and Terms: Twist

Pontoon Term: Stick

The player can stick if they have 15 or over, or if they have a Five Card Trick.

What is Sticking in Pontoon?

Pontoon Term: Buy

The player can buy any time but only once per hand. They can twist after buying until they stick or bust. If they split their hand, they can buy once for each hand, after which they can twist or stick.

How to Play Pontoon: Buy

Pontoon Term: Split

If the player has two cards of equal rank or value, they can split their cards to create two hands, which will be played separately. The player can split up to a maximum of two times. If they split Aces, they can twist and buy (unlike in regular blackjack).

Pontoon Strategy: Split

Pontoon Term: Pontoon

Before any player action, the dealer will peek (check the dealer cards) for pontoon. If the dealer has been dealt pontoon, they will win all player wagers and the hand will be over.

The Meaning of Pontoon

Pontoon Rules: Learning Hand Values

When it comes to deciding whose hand beats whose, the hierarchy works as follows, 1 being the most valuable hand:

  1. Pontoon (Ace and any 10-point card, including after splitting)
  2. 5-Card Trick that Has Not Busted
  3. Non-Busted Hand with 4 Cards or Less (these hands are ranked according to closest to 21 without busting)

For example, a 5-Card Trick will beat a 4-Card 21, a 3-Card 19 will beat a 4-Card 17, and pontoon by dealer will beat any hand.

Learning Pontoon Payouts

The odds when playing pontoon are higher depending on the hand you win with. You can find the standard pontoon payouts for a win with each hand outlined in the table below:

Winning Hand1:1
5-Card Trick2:1
Tie*dealer wins player's wager.

*Includes pontoons

While pontoon shares a lot of common ground with blackjack, there are some important differences, as you've seen above. Once you've learned the differences, you may even find that you enjoy pontoon more than blackjack: at least once you’ve stopped confusing the rules between them!]

Aside from knowing the rules by heart, there are some surefire pontoon strategies that are guaranteed to boost your chances of winning substantially, and below you can find out exactly how to apply them and when!

The Ultimate Pontoon Strategy

Although pontoon is very similar to blackjack, the pontoon strategy is considered to be far more difficult.


As the game has a larger number of variations, the strategy depends on which variation is being played. However, there is a complete set of optimal plays known as the basic pontoon strategy.

What is the “Basic Pontoon Strategy”?

Like blackjack, pontoon also employs strategy cards which players may use during the game. Think of the image below as a grid, where you check each card value and at the intersecting square is the action that has the highest probability of resulting in a win.

The Ultimate Pontoon Strategy

While this strategy chart is a great way to get an idea of which actions to take in different situations, it is still important that you also take into account what you observe on your own. Below we have some additional tips that may not qualify as a strategy on their own, but are sure to help you boost your chances against the house!

Pontoon Tips and Tricks to Boost Your Odds Against the House!

The key to pontoon is learning that it is a game of numbers and probabilities. This is why the number one tip to improving your odds against the house is to simply pay attention!

Keeping track of cards, if you are really good at it you could even go so far as to call it counting cards, is how you can estimate whether hitting another card could lead to a bust or a better hand. While checking the hand value to begin with is a start, knowing how many high cards have already been dealt can still help you guess what cards are left to be dealt.

Pontoon Tips and Tricks to Boost Your Odds Against the House!

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