Pontoon is a British banking and gambling game, deriving from the same common ancestor as Blackjack. As in Blackjack, the goal of the game is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. Those who have played Blackjack before will find it instantly familiar; it plays much like the former game, but with a few extra rules and more places for the player to increase their bet.
The name Pontoon is most likely a corruption of vingt-et-un, French for twenty-one.
Object of Pontoon
The object of Pontoon is to, through selectively drawing more cards, obtain a better score than the dealer without going over 21.
Unlike in Blackjack, which can be dealt with as many as six decks of cards, Pontoon only uses one 52-card deck of playing cards. There’s absolutely no reason not to use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards in your game. You’ll also need something to bet with, most likely poker chips.
Establish one player to be the dealer and banker. This player will be required to shoulder the risk of paying out all winning players, but also the reward of collecting all the losing players’ bets. Therefore, the banker is permitted to establish the maximum and minimum bets they are comfortable with.
Shuffle and deal one card, face down, to each player. Each player looks at their card, not revealing or disclosing it to the other players. Starting at the dealer’s left and going around, each player then places a bet between the dealer and their cards, making it clear which bet corresponds to which player. The dealer then gives each player a second card, face up.
The point value of each hand is calculated by adding the values of its cards together. Aces are worth one or eleven points, at the player’s option, face cards are worth ten points, and all other cards are worth their pip value.
The hands rank in the following order, highest first:
- Pontoon. Two cards totaling 21, i.e. an ace and a ten-point card: A-K, A-Q, A-J, A-10.
- Five-card trick. Five or more cards totaling 21 or less. For example, 5-3-3-2-A (counting ace as one).
- All other hands in order of point value, starting at 21 (with three or more cards) and going down from there.
If a player exceeds a score of 21 at any time, they are said to have busted, and can no longer win anything from their bet.
Play of the hand
Before the hand is actually played, if the dealer is showing an ace or a ten-valued card, they check their face-down card to see if they have a pontoon. If they do, they collect double the amount bet from each player, and the hand ends with no further play.
The player to the dealer’s left goes first. They have the following options:
- Declare pontoon. If a player has a pontoon, they simply note this and move the cards so that the ace is face up and the ten-point card is face down. Play moves to the next player to the left.
- Stick or stand. To take no action because they are satisfied with the current total of their hand. Play moves to the next player to the left.
- Buy a card. To place an additional bet, at least the amount of the original bet but no more than twice the bet, and receive an additional face-down card. Unlike doubling in Blackjack, a player can continue to buy cards as long as they have the money and remain under 21 (unless they twist a card, as explained below).
- Twist a card or hit. To request an additional face-up card without having to pay for it. Upon twisting a card, a player can no longer buy cards. Any further cards must be twisted.
- Split. If a player has two cards of the same rank, they may turn them both face up and split their original hand into two hands, receiving a second card for each. Only available on the first action after being dealt a hand. The player first plays out the two hands in turn order, only moving to the second hand when the first is resolved. They may stick, twist, or split again if dealt a pair.
If a player busts as a result of buying or twisting cards, they turn all of their cards face up and announce this fact. The dealer then collects their bet and their cards (the latter of which go on the bottom of the deck).
After all players have had a chance to act on their hands, the dealer reveals their face-down card. They may draw until they are satisfied with their hand total (unlike in Blackjack, there is no requirement for the dealer to stop at 17).
After the dealer resolves their own hand, all players reveal their cards. The dealer collects bets made by all players with a point total lesser than or equal to theirs (e.g. if the dealer stops at 19, the dealer collects all bets from players holding 19 or lower. Players holding a pontoon or a five-card trick are paid double the amount of their wager.
If the dealer makes a five-card trick, only players with pontoons are paid out, receiving twice the amount of their bet as normal, and all other bets are lost to the bank.
If the dealer busts, all active players get paid, with pontoons and five-card tricks paying double, as per usual.
The next hand
If anyone had a pontoon on the last hand, the cards are collected and the deck shuffled. If the pontoon was held by a player, that player becomes the banker for the next hand. Should there be multiple people with pontoons, the first one to the left of the dealer has the right to bank the next hand.
The next hand is dealt by the same banker if there were no pontoons on the preceding hand. The cards are collected and simply placed on the bottom of the deck, with no shuffle. This rewards players with a good enough memory to remember which cards were in play on the previous hand, and therefore are less likely to come up.
Scotch Whist, also known as Catch the 10, is a fairly straightforward trick-taking game for two to seven players. Players simply try to take the most tricks possible, with an eye toward capturing tricks with high-ranking trumps in them. As the name implies, the game originates from Scotland.
Object of Scotch Whist
Scotch Whist is played with a 36-card pack. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 5s through 2s, leaving a deck with 6 through ace in each of the four suits. If playing with five or seven players, also discard the 6♣, leaving just 35 cards, which divides neatly by both five and seven. You will also need something to keep score with, like pencil and paper, or a program on your smartphone.
Shuffle and deal out the entire deck. Turn the last card dealt, which belongs to the dealer, face up. The suit of this card fixes the trump suit for the ensuing hand.
For the sake of clarity, and because it will come up later, the number of cards each player receives is:
- Two players: eighteen cards.
- Three players: twelve cards.
- Four players: nine cards.
- Five players: seven cards.
- Six players: six cards.
- Seven players: five cards.
Card ranking is slightly different than the expected order in the trump suit. This is because the jack is elevated to the highest position in the deck. The full rank of cards in the trump suit is (high) J, A, K, Q, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 (low).
In the non-trump suits, the cards rank in their usual order, with aces high.
Play of the hand
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player in turn then plays to the trick. Players must follow suit if able; otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump.
After every player has played to the trick, the person who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played, wins it. The player winning the trick takes the cards and places them in a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them. The winner of the first trick then leads to the second one.
The hand continues until the players have exhausted their hands.
At the conclusion of the hand, each player examines their won-tricks pile and tallies up their score for the hand. Points are scored in the following order:
- 10 of trump: ten points.
- Trick score: one point for each card collected in excess of the amount dealt to them. For example, if a player in a four-player game took five tricks, they would have captured 20 cards. They would score eleven points (20–9=11) as their trick score for that hand.
- Ace of trump: four points.
- King of trump: three points.
- Queen of trump: two points.
- Jack of trump: eleven points.
In most cases, these can simply be tallied and scored at once. However, if multiple players exceed a score of 41 on the same hand, the first player to exceed 41 wins the game, following the order of scoring laid out above.
If nobody reaches a score of 41 or more, the deal passes to the left, and new hands are dealt. Continue playing until one player reaches a score of 41.
Zetema plays like a weird mashup of Bezique and a rummy game. It can be played by two to six players. If four or six play, they play in two or three partnerships, respectively.
Zetema was most likely created by Walter Pelham, an employee of British card maker Joseph Hunt & Sons. Hunt & Sons published and marketed the game in the 1870s. Its rules were sold in a pack with (unnecessary) special cards and markers similar to those used to play Bezique. The rules were also published in a few card game books of the period, but it never really seemed to catch on, fading into obscurity shortly thereafter.
Zetema seems to have fascinated several card game experts, who appear to take its failure to achieve popularity as a bit of an affront. It was one of the many games that Sid Sackson plucked from obscurity in A Gamut of Games. Sackson overhauled the game, changing its rules and scoring with the aim of balancing it. David Parlett later took Sackson’s version of the rules and cleaned up its terminology before publishing it in several of his books, including The Penguin Book of Card Games. The rules we present here are those according to Parlett.
Object of Zetema
Zetema is played with a unique 65-card deck. Take one deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and add a complete thirteen-card suit from another deck with the same back design. Which suit is chosen doesn’t matter, but it should be communicated to all players. You will also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper, a dry-erase board, a smartphone application, or semaphore flags are all acceptable options.
If playing with four or six, determine the partnerships, either by some random method or by mutual agreement. Partners should be seated across from each other, so that as the turn goes around the table clockwise, it alternates partnerships (A, B, A, B in the four-player game, or A, B, C, A, B, C in the six-player game). Partners’ scores are added together, but otherwise the game functions as in the non-partnership game.
Shuffle and deal six cards to each player, or five in the six-player game. Place the remainder of the pack in the center of the table, forming the stock.
Play of the hand
The player to the left of the dealer goes first. They draw one card from the stock. If they have any melds, they may show them (but do not lay them down on the table, as in most rummy games). Upon doing so, they immediately score for the meld. They then end their turn by discarding one card; if they declared a meld on that turn, the discard must be one of the cards of that meld.
Unlike in most other games, in Zetema there is not a single discard pile. In fact, there are fourteen of them! Thirteen of these are designated for each rank of card. The fourteenth discard pile is a general discard pile. When discarding at the end of the turn, a player always discards to the pile of the appropriate rank. (The use of the general discard pile will be explained later.)
After a player’s turn, the next player to the left may play, and so on.
Below are the possible melds in Zetema. Note that some of them refer to six cards; in the six-player game, these melds consist of five cards instead, as that is the maximum hand size when playing with six.
- Sequence—Six cards of consecutive rank, not of the same suit. Scores 20.
- Flush—Six cards of the same suit, not in sequence. Scores 30.
- Flush sequence—Both a flush and a sequence, i.e. six cards of the same suit of consecutive rank. Scores 50.
- Assembly—Five cards of the same rank. Scores differently according to the rank of the cards involved: kings or queens 130, jacks 120, aces or 5s 110, all other ranks 100.
Instead of a declaring a meld, a player can declare a marriage. A marriage is a king and queen of the same suit. A player can simply have both cards in their hand, usual. But if a player holds just one card of the marriage, and the other is in the discard pile of the appropriate rank, they can pull it out of the discards to score the marriage.
Multiple marriages may be scored at once, and in fact, they score more when declared in bulk. A single marriage scores 10 points, a double marriage 30 points, a triple 60, and a quadruple 100. A marriage in the duplicated suit is called an imperial marriage, and an extra 10 points is scored for each of these declared. If all five marriages are declared at once, the player scores 150 points!
When one or more marriages is declared, a player discards all of the relevant cards to the general wastepile, not the king and queen piles. Once placed here, they cannot be removed. The player then draws back up to six cards (five in the six-player game) and their turn ends. They do not make a discard to the per-rank piles.
A player holding a meld (such as a flush or sequence) involving a king and queen cannot declare the meld and sequence on the same turn. Instead, the meld must be declared first, and the marriage declared on a subsequent turn.
When a player discards the fifth card of one rank to that rank’s discard pile, they have formed a zetema. That player then scores according to the rank of the zetema. A zetema of jacks scores 20 points, of aces or 5s scores 15 points, and of any other rank 5 points. Zetemas of kings or queens theoretically score 50 points each, but these are rarely scored, since they cannot be scored if even one marriage is formed.
After scoring a zetema, the player forming it moves all five cards in the general discard pile.
Ending the hand
Game play continues as above until the stock is depleted, at which point players simply stop drawing. At this point, if a player runs out of cards, they drop out of the hand. The hand ends when the entire deck is in the general discard pile.
Another hand is then dealt, and game play continues until someone reaches the target score of 300 points (200 if four or more play). When this happens, the rest of the hand is not played—the game ends immediately. Whoever reached the target score is the winner.