Demystifying the differences between Blackjack and Pontoon

On a recent ferry trip to the Netherlands, the on board casino laid games of Pontoon (and Double Zero Roulette) which gave the house a healthy advantage.

The ship’s Pontoon was arguably a mash-up of Pontoon and Blackjack, but made us think about the key differences between the two games.

Many guests at our mobile fun casino nights confidently stride up to the tables, armed with the knowledge of the ‘21’ they’ve played all their lives. Regularly these players use the terminology of Pontoon, and try to play to those rules, which is why we thought it would be useful to highlight some of the differences between the two games. 

While both are a variation on the 21 theme, there are significant differences. Blackjack is a more simple game (although many casinos serve it up with poker style side bets, where the player can win by making pairs or three card poker hands). In recent years, Blackjack  has become by far and away the most common of the two, and when looking at the differences, they really are more different than they are alike!

Here are five of the main differences…

The five card trick

One of the biggest disappointments players face is when they hit the blackjack table and discover that there’s no five card trick.

In Pontoon, a five card hand of 21 or under beats anything the dealer has, with the exception of a two-card pontoon (an ace and a 10 card). In blackjack, it counts for nothing!

Double down versus buying a card

Pontoon allows players to increase their stakes by ‘buying’ additional cards when they feel that the odds are favourable.

Blackjack also has the opportunity to buy an additional card, but here it is a case of equalling the original bet to get one card, and one card only. If you draw an ace on 11, then that’s tough – you have to stand on 12. With Pontoon, you’d still be able to take another card.

Different terminology

Nothing gives away the fact that we’ve got a Pontoon player at the table like the words they use!

Don’t worry, we still understand, but to learn the lingo properly, you’ll need to know that you don’t ‘twist’ in blackjack. Instead, ask for a ‘hit’, or tap the table, or say ‘card’. In blackjack we ‘stand’ (not stick) and we ‘double down’ rather than buying cards.

No pushing

In blackjack, a tie between the dealer (known as a ‘push’) results in the player keeping their stake. In Pontoon there are no draws. The player must beat the dealer, so if both finish on (for example) 17, the player loses his or her stake. This is one of the main reasons why the casino has its edge, or advantage, when spreading Pontoon.

Forced to take cards

In blackjack, a player may stand on any value but under many variations of Pontoon, the player must hit at least 15 before they can stick. That means that a player on 14 is forced to take a twist, with the accompanying risk of busting if hitting an eight, nine or 10.

This is combined by the fact that the player traditionally does not see any of the dealer’s cards when making their decision. In blackjack, the dealer always exposes one card, which gives the player an opportunity to assess what action to take. For example, standing on 13 is mathematically the correct play when a dealer is showing a card below seven.

Different payouts

A Pontoon (an ace and a card valued at 10) may be the same as a Blackjack but the payouts in Pontoon are higher.

A natural Pontoon pays two to one, whereas a Blackjack pays a less favourable three to two. A Pontoon can also be achieved after splitting aces, while the same result wins just evens in Blackjack.

Like all casino games, there may be small variations depending on the ‘house rules’. On the ferry I played on, the dealer dealt one ‘up’ card to herself (just like blackjack) while classic Pontoon rules can see the croupier deal both their cards face down, meaning that the player has no idea what they are up against. In traditional Blackjack, players are able to see one of the dealer’s cards, giving them the opportunity to play to a strategy based on the visible card.