Advanced Pontoon Strategy With Instructive Hand Examples

Pontoon is a sort of variation of blackjack with some atypical rules. Strategy for this game can be really difficult to get used to when you’re starting out. Here we’re going to assist with this by working through some advanced examples of instructive hands.

Instructive Hands for Advanced Pontoon Strategy

There’s no shortage of different styles of blackjack at different online casinos. However, most of them follow pretty much the same types of rules. Pontoon, on the other hand, does not follow as many of these rules. In fact, it’s really its own game altogether in a lot of aspects.

While Pontoon is considered a type of blackjack, its rule set has more differences than any other style of the game out there, which leads to lots of confusion when it comes to strategy.

Simply put, there’s enough that’s similar to lull players into a false sense of security. It can seem like you’re playing mostly correctly just by playing intuitively. However, it can quickly become an example of knowing just enough to get yourself into some trouble.

Here we’re going to first look at a few rules that are important to keep in mind. This is because they really illustrate the differences between this game and most other blackjack styles. From there, we’re going to look at some instructive hands to show you how to think when playing this game. The idea is to walk you through how to view these situations so that you know how to think about them and play well instead of just following your intuition, which has been built playing games that are too different for your experience to be relied upon.

Important Rules to Keep in Mind

We’re not going to run down the entire set of rules for pontoon. Instead, we’re assuming that you’re familiar with them if you’re reading an advanced strategy guide. However, we do want to put some focus on a few of the rules that trip players up the most when it comes to making strategic adjustments.

Most of this really just comes down to what you focus on. More regular blackjack variations will have you focused on things that won’t really do you much good in pontoon. Instead, those things will trip you up more often than not.

The Number of Cards in Your Hand Matters

The first thing you should think of in every single situation is how many cards you have. You should even consider this before you think about what your total is. That’s how important this piece of information really is.

That’s something that you don’t have to think about in other blackjack variations in most cases. Even if you do, it’s usually an afterthought and very rarely affects your play. This is exactly where your intuition gets thrown off because it’s extremely important in this game. In fact, it’s arguably the most important piece of information that you have.

When You Double is More Up for Debate

In most blackjack games, doubling up is a very static, concrete and permanent decision. Once you double, that’s the end of your action for the hand in most cases. However, pontoon is different in this regard.

Because you can continue to hit after doubling, you have to think more about it from a strategic standpoint.

There are situations where you would typically think about doubling that you have to wait in pontoon. As we saw above, it’s the number of cards in your hand that determines this more often than not.

You Can’t Stand With 14 or Less

Generally speaking, adding strategic options makes things more complicated. Likewise, removing them simplifies things. This is the case with the rule that you can only stand if you have 15 or more.

With non-paired hands with point totals of 14 or lower, your only options are hitting or doubling. If you’ve already doubled, your only choice is to hit. When you only have one option, it makes things a lot easier. However, this also informs your decisions a lot with only two cards.

Example Hands

With those specific rules noted, it’s time to jump into some instructive hands. We’ve chosen these hands to point out very specific concepts that are very important in pontoon.

If you really put in the time to understand these hands on a deep level, then you’ll learn a lot about how to play this game in the general sense. However, if you just skip over them and try to memorize what to do instead of understanding the underlying concepts, then you won’t get nearly as much out of it.

Instructive Hand #1: The Hitting Series

There’s something in pontoon that is sometimes called a hitting series. It’s a hand where you end up hitting three times in a row. It’s fairly rare because of the constraints put on it. However, it’s worth pointing out and learning since it offers a sort of reference point for other types of hands.

Let’s start with 54. The first thing to consider is that we have two cards. That number of cards is always the initial piece of information to focus on. From there, we note that we have a total of 9. We only double hard totals of 10 or 11 with just two cards, and we have a total of 14 or lower. Therefore, it’s narrowed down that we must hit.

Suppose we hit and now have the hand 543. We have three cards, and our total is 12. Again, we only double with hard totals of 9, 10 and 11 with three cards. That means doubling is out of the question. We also have a total of less than 14, which means we cannot stand. Once again, hitting is our only option, so we hit.

Now our hand is 5435. This is a four-card hand with a total of 17. A hitting series has to end with a four-card hand with a total of 17. That’s because 17 is the only hard total that you hit with when you have four cards. It’s worth noting that you never hit (or double) a 17 with fewer cards.

From this point, we hit and hope for the best. The importance of playing through this hand and understanding it is very straightforward. If our total was one higher or one lower at each point, we could play the hand differently. Hitting series type hands are known for this, and they act as “thresholds” between the different strategic options in a lot of cases, which is why they are such good instructive hands.

Instructive Hand #2: Strong Soft Hands

Soft hands are particularly anti-intuitive in pontoon because they are played much less aggressively with regards to doubling. Here we’ll see how that can play out in a common type of scenario. This is a type of scenario that lots of mistakes are made on, so it’s important to pay attention.

We start with A3. As always, we note that we have two cards first, and then we see that we have a soft 14. The general rule for advanced pontoon strategy is that you always hit with two or three cards with soft hands if your total is less than 19. That is a bold and aggressive strategy, but the number of cards mattering is why it’s the way it is. Therefore, we hit.

After hitting, we end up with A34. Again, we have three cards now, and our total is a soft 18. This is the type of hand where players will mistakenly double very often, but that’s wrong. Instead, you should hit instead because you do not have a total of 19 or more.

We hit once more, and we are dealt A348. Our hand has four cards, and we have switched to having a hard total now. This total is of 16. In this type of moment where we have switched over from a soft to hard type of hand, it’s really easy to go on mental auto-pilot and make a mistake, which is a common theme for big mistakes made with hands that are initially soft.

Instead of being stuck in the mode of thinking that we had a soft hand, stay present in the moment. This is a hard 16 just like any other, and with four cards, that is a double in pontoon.

Instructive Hand #3: Paired Problem Hands

Now we will look at another type of hand that players often mess up with. That’s paired hands in pontoon. If you start with a paired hand, you should only split with aces or eights. With any other hand, you should never split. This is a much different rule than regular blackjack games, which makes it anti-intuitive.

So we start with 88, and we split. Our hands become 8A and 83. With the 8A hand, we have a soft 19, which is a stand in pontoon with two cards. Now we only have to worry about playing the 83.

We first identify that we have two cards in the hand. It can be easy to get mentally side-tracked and mistakenly think you have three. That’s because you’ve already made one decision in the hand. Avoid that type of mistake because it can really cost you. In this situation, you have two cards with a soft 11. That’s a double.

Now suppose you receive another card, and your hand is 834. That is a four-card hard 15. Intuitively, if you’ve played a lot of blackjack, you probably want to hit here. It’s a little scary to stand, especially with only a 15 and especially with the bet size doubled from your previous decision. However, we have to remember the basics and stick to them.

In this situation, a hard 15 is always a stand with four cards, so that’s what we do.


In these instructive examples, we’ve looked at the technical and mental components of advanced pontoon strategy. If you study these examples in a lot of detail, then you’ll pull a lot out of them. They have been especially designed to cover the biggest, most common mistakes that players make when coming over from more typical styles of blackjack. As such, they contain lessons that you need to learn if you want to maximize your payout rate in pontoon.