Pontoon

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.

Setup

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.

Game play

Hand ranking

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:

  1. Pontoon. Two cards totaling 21, i.e. an ace and a ten-point card: A-K, A-Q, A-J, A-10.
  2. Five-card trick. Five or more cards totaling 21 or less. For example, 5-3-3-2-A (counting ace as one).
  3. 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).

Payouts

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.

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Ziginette

Ziginette is an Italian gambling and banking game for any number of players, although it might get a little bit hectic with more than about eight. Card expert John Scarne described Ziginette in the mid-twentieth century as “the biggest money card game in Italy”, and noted that it was also popular among Italian-Americans. Ziginette was likely the basis for the similar American gambling game Skin.

Unlike most banking games, Ziginette has no inherent house edge. When casinos spread the game, they would take a 10% cut of the banker’s wins, thus ensuring they profit by running the game. Without this cut, neither the banker nor the players have an advantage.

Object of Ziginette

The object of Ziginette is to win money when the dealer matches their card before you match yours.

Setup

Ziginette is played with the 40-card Italian deck. (This deck is also used to play Seven and a Half, Scopa and Briscola.) To form such a deck, take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove the 10s, 9s, and 8s. What remains will be a deck that has ten cards in each suit (ace through 7, and the three face cards). You will also need something to bet with. Because of the all of the winning and losing that will be taking place, using chips is highly recommended. If Blackjack dealing equipment is available, such as a shoe and a discard rack, it might be useful, but is not required.

Determine the first dealer-banker by some random method, such as a high card draw. Before dealing the first hand, the banker must announce what the minimum and maximum bets will be. These limits must be an amount they’re comfortable with losing, because they will be responsible for paying out all winning bets.

Shuffle and deal two board cards face up to the center of the table. Then, deal a third card face up in front of the banker. If any of these three cards form a pair, it is called a playette. In this case, the cards are returned to the deck, which is shuffled before redealing.

Game play

The players may now place a bet on either of the board cards available to them. If they wish, they can bet on both cards, on just one, or neither.

Once the players have had an adequate time to make their bets, the banker deals a fourth card, face up. If it doesn’t match any of the cards previously dealt, it simply becomes another board card. Players may place wagers on it just like the others. However, if the new card matches one of the board cards, the banker collects all of the bets placed on the board card of that rank. When a card is matched in this way, it is removed from the board. The other two cards of that rank simply become dead and are discarded upon being dealt. This continues, with the banker dealing new cards and collecting losing bets.

When the banker deals a card matching their own, the hand ends. The banker must pay out every wager currently on the board at even money. The deal then passes to the player on the losing banker’s right.

In the event that all of the cards on the board are matched before the dealer’s, or that there are no bets left on the board and the players are unwilling to place new ones, the hand ends. In this situation, the banker has the option to deal another hand. If they do, they may adjust the betting limits prior to dealing. They may also elect to pass the bank to the next player, the same as if they had ended the hand by losing.

 

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