There are 2 important things to remember in Pontoon, first of all there are no 10s so you're playing with a 48 card deck, and that if played right, the house advantage in pontoon can be reduced to around half a percent. Similar to its cousin, blackjack, there is an optimal playing strategy for pontoon and it's called Basic Strategy
Being absolutely 100% a game of mathematics, it is possible to determine for each hand in pontoon what the optimum action is to take based on the chances of the cards that you need to win occurring. Figuring out the probabilities behind each hand is actually quite complicated, and thankfully for you, you don't have to do the math yourself, as others have already done it. Thus, basic strategy is a system that should be followed if you want to win as much as possible. The principle of Basic Strategy always remains the same, but there are slight differences depending on variations. Thus you should always be sure you have the Basic Strategy that applies to the variation you're playing. You will find tables that give you the Basic Strategy for each variation that are easy to read and reference. For now however, we are going to stick to basic rules to follow that offer optimum play in Pontoon:
With a Hard Hand
•On hands of 4 - 8, and 12 always hit. •On hands of 9 always hit unless the dealer is showing a 6 and then you should double on 1 - 3 cards. •On hands of 10 you should: •Double if the dealer is showing 4,5, or 6. •If the dealer is showing 2 or 3: double unless you have 5 or more cards and then you should hit. •If the dealer is showing 7; double on four cards or more. •If the dealer is showing 8; double on three cards or more. •If the dealer is showing 9,10,A; hit. •On hands of 13 always hit unless the dealer is showing a 6 in which case you should stand unless you have four cards or more in which case you should hit if a 6, 7, 0r 8 is possible. •On hands of 14 hit unless the dealer is showing: •4, in which case you stick if you have four cards or more and hit if getting a 6, 7, or 8 is possible. •5, in which case you stand unless you have five cards or more; if a suited 6, 7, or 8 is possible you should hit. •6, in which case you should stand unless you have five cards or more. •On hands of 15, you should hit, unless the dealer is showing: •2; stand unless you have four cards or more. •3 or 4; stand unless you have five cards or more. •5 or 6; stand unless you have six cards or more •On hands of 16 you should hit, unless the dealer is showing; •2; stand unless you have 5 cards or more. •3 or 4; stand unless you have 6 or more cards. •5 or 6; stand. •On hands of 17 you should stand, unless the dealer is showing: •8, 9, or 10; hit if you have six or more cards. •Ace; hit.
With Soft Hands
•On hands of 12 – 17; hit. •On hands of 18 stand unless: •The dealer shows 2-6, or 7; hit on four cards or more. •The dealer shows 7; hit on six cards or more. •On hands of 19 stand, unless: •The dealer shows 10 or A; hit on five cards or more.
•Pairs of 2 & 3 always pair unless the dealer is showing 9, 10 or Ace in which case you hit. •Pairs of 4; always hit. •Pairs of 5; if dealer is showing 2-8, double; if dealer is showing 9 – Ace, hit. •Pairs of 6; if the dealer is showing 2, 3, 7–Ace, Hit. If dealer is showing 4, 5, 6; split. •Pairs of 7; if dealer is showing 2-6, split; 7, hit if suited otherwise split; 8–Ace, hit. •Pairs of 8; split on all except if the dealer is showing Ace and then you should stand. •Pairs of 9; split on all unless dealer is showing 2, 7, 10 or Ace, in which case you should stand. •Pairs of Aces; split on all unless dealer is showing Ace in which case you should hold.
Is there a disadvantage to using Basic Pontoon Strategy
From the mathematical and hence the winning perspective there is no disadvantage to using Pontoon Basic Strategy, however it must be said that it does take a little of the fun out of the game. Most people are certainly playing to win, but winning is just a part of the fun of playing, and when you play using basic strategy you take no chances, no gambles and those are what make the play exciting. Playing with basic strategy leaves nothing down to the gut, nothing down to taking a chance, and it also means that you don't get to make any decisions as the strategy does that for you, and for many this is considered to be a disadvantage.
Strategy for Learning Basic Strategy
One of the many joys of online gaming is that it allows you to have whatever resources you need by your side, for example a basic strategy table for easy reference. However, whilst this is convenient you should be making an effort to internalize the strategy, to know it like second nature. Therefore it is a good idea to have the table by you as you first start using it, and see how you like it. As you're using it try to remember the advised responses, and try to even test yourself by thinking what you should do before checking against the table. The next stage of learning is to actually play without using the table. For this it is a good idea to take advantage of any free-play option that might be available to you. Keep playing in free play until you can make the right decisions without looking at the chart. You will then be ready to return to money play, or indeed bricks-and-mortar play.
If you already understand the basic Pontoon strategy, then you may wish to refresh yourself on the rules of Pontoon before hitting the tables.