The version of pontoon being discussed in this article corresponds to the game popular in Britain. Both pontoon and blackjack evolved from the French casino game vingt-et-un, meaning 21. Hence both games exhibit similarities. The concept that the hand value should be as close as possible to 21 without going over is common to both pontoon and blackjack.
However there are some noticeable differences as well. The most significant difference is in the hand rankings. The highest ranked hand in blackjack is the “blackjack”, which consists of an ace and a ten-value card. The same hand is the highest in pontoon, only it is called “pontoon”.
Thereafter the differences begin. In blackjack only the hand value is important, not the composition of the cards. The higher the hand value the higher is the ranking as long as the hand value does not exceed 21. In pontoon the composition of the hand overrides the hand value.
The second highest ranking hand in pontoon is called the “five card trick”. This is a hand of exactly five cards with a hand value of 21 or less. Therefore a five card trick with a hand value of 16 is higher ranked than a three card hand with a hand value of 21. Third in rank is a hand with three or four cards with a hand value of 21. Then are the hands with less than five cards and with hand values of 20 or less. These hands are ranked in order of decreasing hand value. At the bottom are hands with hand values exceeding 21. As in blackjack these hands are worthless.
Another important difference between blackjack and pontoon is the betting procedure. In blackjack the player has to place all his bets, including split and double down, before he hits, that is asks for an additional card.
However in pontoon there is a special optional move that enables a player to increase his wager as he asks for another card. This is known as “buying a card”. If the hand value of the player is less than 21 the player has an option of buying a card by increasing his stake. He is not required to do so. He can hit without increasing his stake as in blackjack but if he is in a strong position it is to his advantage to raise the ante.