Ultra Australian Pontoon
The main difference between standard Blackjack and Australian Pontoon is that a player's hand value of 21 will always win. In standard Blackjack, a dealer's "natural" Blackjack would push a player's "natural" Blackjack and beat any other combination totaling 21. In Australian Pontoon the player always wins with 21. Australian Pontoon is a variation of Blackjack 21 with a lower house edge, but has a different basic strategy than normal Blackjack.
The rules of playing Australian Pontoon are very easy. Australian Pontoon is played using six full decks of cards. To get a Pontoon (21 points in two cards, the same as a natural Blackjack) players simply have to get an Ace and any card with a value of 10. A Pontoon can also be made after splitting cards. If a player gets a Five-Card Trick, a hand of five cards totaling 21 or less even after splitting, then the player will be paid 2-to-1 odds on their bet. A Pontoon, however, will always beat a Five-Card Trick as the Pontoon hand is deemed the strongest hand in this game. Keep in mind that the rules of Pontoon dictate that players must "hit" on all hands worth less than 15 that are not a Five-Card Trick. The dealer will be dealt two face-down cards and will always look at their cards to see if they have made a Pontoon hand. The dealer will always "stand" on hands worth 17 or higher. After the initial two cards are dealt, players are permitted to accept any two, three, or four cards but this can only be done once per hand. Players may also accept a card after they split a hand. Players may only split once meaning they can only play a maximum of two hands. Just one card will be dealt to Aces that have been split. Australian Pontoon also features special bonuses on hands that are made up of particular cards - see the bonus table in the game for exact payouts. Australian Pontoon is a classic game that is one of the easiest to master. Shuffle the cards and let's play!
The Goal of Blackjack
The goal of Blackjack is for a player to achieve a hand value of 21, or as close to 21 as possible without exceeding a value of 21. The hand must also be of greater value than the dealer's hand. In Blackjack, players strictly play against the hand of the dealer and not the other players at the table. The dealer must abide by a strictly dictated set of rules that leave no room for arbitrary decisions. Therefore, the dealer does not gain any advantage by seeing the cards in a player's hand. If a game is being dealt out of a shoe all the player's cards are dealt face up.
Values of the Cards
In Blackjack, the cards are valued as follows:
- An Ace can count as either one or as an eleven (explained below).
- The Two through Nine cards are valued at their face value.
- The Ten, Jack, Queen, and King are valued at 10.
In Blackjack, the suits of the cards (spades, diamonds, hearts, clubs) do not have any meaning in the scoring of the game. The value of a hand is simply the sum of the point values of each card in the hand. For example, a hand containing a Five-card, Seven-card and Nine-card has a value of 21. The Ace cards can be valued at either one or eleven and the player need not specify which value. Ace cards are assumed to always have the value that makes the best hand. For example, a player has the beginning hand of an Ace and a Six. This hand can be scored either as seven or 17. If a player holds (chooses not to take another card) at that point the hand value will be 17. If a player decides to draw another card to the hand and draws a Three-card, the player's hand value is now 20 (11 + 6 + 3) counting the Ace as eleven. If the third card drawn was an Eight-card, the hand is now scored (Ace (1) + 6 + 8) which totals 15. The Ace must be counted as only one in this example to avoid the player's hand going over 21.
A hand that contains an Ace is called a "soft" total if the Ace can be counted as either one or 11 without the total going over 21. For example, an initial deal of an Ace and Six-card is a soft 17. The term stems from the fact that the player can always draw another card to a soft total with no danger of "busting" by going over 21. The hand Ace, Six, and Ten is a "hard" 17, since the Ace must be counted as only one to keep the hand from going over 21.
The Deal of the Cards
Once all bets are made the dealer will deal the cards so that the player and the dealer have two cards each. (European and Australian play: See exception at the bottom of this section.) The dealer will then flip one of his cards over, exposing its value.
Now, the exception: some casinos, mostly in Europe, give the dealer only one card face-up until the player(s) has finished their hand. The dealer then deals their own second card, and finishes their hand. This is called the "European No Hole Card" rule. This can change a player's strategy if, and only if, the dealer collects all player bets in the event of a dealer Blackjack. Some casinos that deal only one card at first to the dealer will refund any double-down or split bets if the dealer turns out to have Blackjack. This type of no hole card rule does not have any effect on the player's optimal strategy.
How the Dealer Plays His Hand
The dealer must play his hand in a specific, pre-determined manner, with the dealer making no strategic choices. There are two popular rule variations that determine what total the dealer must draw to. In any given casino, you can tell which rule is in effect by looking at the blackjack tabletop. It should be clearly labeled with one of these rules:
- "Dealer stands on all 17s": In this case the dealer must continue to take cards ("hit") until the total is 17 or greater. An Ace in the dealer's hand is always counted as eleven unless it makes the dealer's hand value go over 21. For example, an Ace and Eight-card would total 19 and the dealer would stop drawing cards ("stand"). An Ace with a Six-card would total 17 and again the dealer will stand. An Ace and a Five-card would only total 16, so the dealer would hit (draw another card). The dealer will continue to draw cards until the hand's value is 17 or more. For example, a dealer drawing an Ace, Five-card, and Seven-card would only total a hand value of 13, here the dealer would hit again and draw a fourth card. A dealer drawing an Ace, Five-card, Seven-card, and another Five-card would total a hand value of 18 and therefore would stop ("stand") at that point.
- "Dealer hits soft 17": Some casino games use this rule variation instead. This rule is identical except for what happens when the dealer has a soft total of 17. Hands such as an (Ace, Six-card), (Ace, Five-card ,Ace), and (Ace, Two-card, Four-card) are all examples of a soft 17. The dealer will hit on these hands and stand on a soft 18 or higher, or a hard 17 or higher. Employing this rule gives the house a slightly increased advantage against the players.
The dealer has no choices to make in the play of their hand. The dealer must simply hit until reaching at least 17 or busting by going over 21.
What is a Blackjack, or a Natural?
A Blackjack (Natural) is a hand value total of 21 dealt to a player in the first two cards. A Blackjack (Natural) therefore can only be a hand that consists of an Ace and any ten-valued card. For example, if a player splits a pair of Aces and then draws a ten-valued card on one of the Aces, this is not a Blackjack, but rather a total of 21. This distinction is important, because a winning Blackjack pays the player odds of three to two. A bet of 10 wins 15 if the player makes a Blackjack. A player Blackjack beats any dealer total other than Blackjack, including a dealer's three or more cards totaling 21. If both a player and the dealer have a Blackjack, the hand is a tie or push.
Surrender
Not every Blackjack game offers surrender, and those that do fall into two categories that bear explanation, "Early" vs. "Late". Surrender offers the player the choice to fold their hand at the cost of half the original bet. Players must make the decision to surrender prior to taking any other action on the hand. For example, once a player draws a third card, splits, or doubles down, surrendering is no longer an option.
The two varieties of surrender, "Early" and "Late", differ only in the way a dealer Blackjack is handled. In an "Early" surrender game a player may choose to surrender before the dealer checks his cards for a Blackjack, which offers a cheap way out of the hand even if the dealer turns out to have a Blackjack. The "Early" surrender is rarely offered because it offers a healthy advantage to the player. The more common variation is "Late" surrender where the dealer checks for Blackjack first, and then only if they do not have a Blackjack will the dealer allow players to surrender their hands.
Doubling Down
Among the more profitable player options available in Blackjack is the choice to "double down", which can only be done with a two card hand before another card has been drawn. Doubling down allows players to double their bet and receive one, and only one, additional card. A good example of a double down opportunity is when a player holds a total of 11, for instance a Six-card and a Five-card against a dealer's shown Five-card. In this case a player has a good chance of winning the hand by drawing one additional card, therefore increasing the bet in this situation is advantageous. Players in a face-down game can just toss the two cards face-up on the table in front of their bet. In either type of game, players add an additional bet by doubling down. Place the additional bet adjacent to the original bet, not on top of it. The dealer will deal one additional card to the player's hand. In the face-down game the dealer will tuck the additional card face-down under the bet, to be revealed later.
Players are allowed to double down for any amount up to the original bet amount. Players can double down for less than the original bet if desired. Remember, players do give up something for being allowed to increase their bet - the ability to draw more than one additional card. If the correct play is to double down, players should always double down for the full amount if possible.
Insurance and Even Money
Insurance is perhaps the least understood of all the common Blackjack rules, because the insurance bet is normally a poor bet for the player and gives an advantage to the house. However, this is not always the case.
If the dealer turns an Ace face-up, they will offer "insurance" to the players. Insurance bets can be made by betting up to half the original bet amount on the insurance stripe. The dealer will check to see if they have a 10-value card underneath their Ace, and if the dealer does have Blackjack the winning insurance bet will be paid at odds of 2-to-1. The player will still lose their original bet unless the player also has a Blackjack. The net effect is that players break even, assuming their insurance bet is half of their original bet. This is why the bet is described as "insurance", since it seems to protect the original bet against a dealer Blackjack. However, if the dealer does not have Blackjack the player loses the insurance bet and will still have to play the original bet.
In the simplest description, insurance is a side-bet where players are offered 2-to-1 odds that the dealer has a card valued at 10 underneath ("in the hole"). A quick check of the odds yields this: in a single deck game there are 16 cards with a value of 10. Assuming players don't see any other cards, including their own, the cards valued at 10 make up 16 out of 51 remaining cards after the dealer's Ace has been removed. For the insurance bet to be a break-even bet, the hole card would have to be a 10-valued card 1 out of 3 times, but the true odds (16/51) are 1 in 3.1875.
The basic strategy is that the player should simply never take the insurance bet, even if offered as an "even money" variety. Card counters, however, can often detect situations where more than one-third of the remaining cards have a value of 10, making the bet profitable. Unless a player knows the bet is favorable it is often wise to simply ignore it.