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As a standard ingredient in your average casino recipe, blackjack is so popular that it has even spawned copycat games, pontoon being one of them. True fans of the original may not ever feel the need to defect, but there’s no harm in being across the variations should you ever feel like branching out – you might even find greater success with the alternative. Here are some of the main differences between classic blackjack and its British relative.
It’s all in a name
On a basic level, the lingo is a big part of what sets blackjack and pontoon apart, especially as much of the detail lies in terminology. Although the classic terms of blackjack aren’t exactly self-explanatory, they have infiltrated popular culture to the point that even novices may be familiar with “hitting”, “standing” and “doubling down”. The language used in pontoon is arguably simpler; for example, to stay with your bet and end your turn is to “stick”, while adding to your bet and your hand at once is simply called “buying a card”. In any case, the pursuit of proficiency in either game will likely require a familiarity with the names within the game.
Placing a bet in blackjack is always a high-stakes move, and while the same is true in pontoon, the difference lies in the option to buy cards. This move essentially involves doubling your bet for the opportunity to take a hit, or “twist”, and add a card to your hand. Unlike blackjack, pontoon also allows players with hands of more than two cards to buy. Of course, such a move can be quite risky, but it can also pay off well if you begin with a hand of low-value cards and manage to avoid going bust, in which case the extra buy-in can lead to a significantly higher payout.
The five-card trick
The simplicity of blackjack lies in its single-minded goal of reaching 21, a factor which no doubt contributes to it being one of the most popular card games. While this makes pontoon a similar game at its core, the introduction of a five-card trick option, similar to the ultimate poker hand, gives players another possible winning strategy. Failing these options, you can also win the round with a hand of three or four cards totalling 21, or less, if you are the closest. Essentially, if you like the idea of extra opportunities to win, pontoon makes a great alternative to the comparatively risky “21 or bust” mentality.
A majority of casino games are skewed in favour of the house in some way, and pontoon is no exception, piling on several layers of disadvantage. The ultimate disparity comes through in the ruling that if a tie should occur, the dealer will automatically be declared the winner, and this is amplified by the fact that the dealer’s cards remain hidden until players have made standing bets. This makes it far more difficult to guess at your standing in comparison with the dealer, who is already in a position of fortune.
The discussion of financial gains is where things start to get interesting for most players, and it also represents one of the most significant differences between pontoon and blackjack. In the latter case, a “natural” comprising an ace and a card valued at ten (including all picture cards) is the best you can hope for, and will earn a payout of 3:2, or 150% of your original bet. By comparison, pontoon offers an appealing payout rate of 2:1, or 200%, for a natural hand, with healthy payouts on offer for other winning hands. This is to say that from a financial perspective, pontoon puts players in a relatively strong position, but when you consider that all of that extra opportunity is also afforded to others at the table, it makes for a competitive game.
There will always be some who vehemently believe that there’s no beating a classic, and if you’re in this camp, the game of pontoon might not be for you. On the other hand, much of the logical understanding and experience you stand to gain through a few tense rounds of blackjack is transferable, and you may even find the new game an easier route to success.