If you’ve ever played blackjack with friends at home, you might well have heard one of them claim to have won a hand because they have a five card trick. Depending on the actual game you’ve been playing, they do not have a winning hand. If it is actually blackjack that you’ve been involved in then a five card trick isn’t really a thing. If, on the other hand, you’re playing a different game that involves the same basis of getting as close to 21 as you can then the five card trick might, in fact, be valid. This is especially the case in pontoon, which is similar to blackjack but not the same game.
Whilst some casinos might offer customers some sort of prize for remaining under 21 after being dealt five cards, this certainly isn’t the norm. If you head to Las Vegas and sit at a blackjack table, you might look a little bit silly if you are dealt five cards, haven’t gone bust and start whooping and cheering as a result. Though you’re not exactly going to get thrown out of a casino for being happy, you might find yourself on the receiving end of some stares and feeling extremely embarrassed when the croupier informs you that, sadly, your five cards are meaningless in and of themselves.
What Is a Five Card Trick?
The first question that you might find yourself asking here is what a five card trick actually is. Often referred to as a five card Charlie, a five card trick is the second-best hand that you can be dealt whilst playing pontoon. The best hand is, of course, pontoon, but a five card Charlie isn’t too far behind. In essence, a five card trick literally involves you being dealt five cards without going bust. That is it. There isn’t anything more complicated or special about it. It involves the dealing dealing five cards out to you without the total of those cards going over the magic number of 21.
From a statistical point of view, a five card trick only really happens every 50 hands. In other words, you’re not all that likely to get to the point of being dealt five cards and getting a five card Charlie during a game. If it happens when you’re playing blackjack, it is entirely irrelevant apart from the fact that you won’t have gone bust. If you imagine a scenario in which you’re dealt an Ace, a 6, a 2 and two 3s, say, that amounts to 15, using the Ace as a 1. Whilst you’re not bust when playing blackjack, anything over 15 for the dealer means you’ve lost, unless they’ve gone bust.
Given the fact that a five card trick is actually a thing when you’re playing pontoon, it is probably important to explain how that game works. It is often the case that people will use the name blackjack and that of pontoon interchangeably. That is because they are from the same family of card games, even though they differ from each other in several different ways. Importantly, they will never be used interchangeably by casinos, who understand the importance of playing to a set of rules when offering card games to the punters that head to their venues.
Whether you’re playing pontoon or blackjack, the game will have derived from the French game of vingt-et-un. Pontoon can be played with any number of players over two, with the best games usually involved between five and right people. It uses a standard pack of cards with 52 cards in play, with the cards holding the same value as you’d expect from blackjack. That means that the Ace can be 1 or 11, face cards are worth 10 and all other cards are worth their face value. The aim of the game is to form a hand that is as close to 21 as possible without going over it.
The best hand in pontoon is that the game is named after. A pontoon is made up of an Ace and either a face card or a 10. The reason this is so good is that you are only dealt two cards initially, with a requirement to ‘buy’ other cards from the dealer. Both of the dealer’s cards are placed face down on the table, so you’ll have no idea what they have. If you don’t have pontoon then the next best hand that you can have is a five card Charlie, also known as a five card trick, which involves getting 21 or less after having been dealt five cards by the dealer.
After a five card Charlie, the next best hand is a three or four card trick. This requires you to get exactly 21 with either three or four cards. Any hands that have 20 points or fewer without being a five card trick will be ranked according to the total. If the banker has the same valued hands as a player, the banker wins. To put it more simply, here is an order of hands using some completely invented values:
- A – Q: Pontoon
- 7 – 3 – 5 – 2 – 2: Five Card Trick
- 9 – 7 – 5: 21
- Jack – King: 20
- 7 – 3 – 5 – 2: 17
As you can imagine, there are variations of pontoon played all around the world. Some will allow you to ‘twist’ to get a new card for free, whilst others will require to you to pay for each new card that you want. Equally, it is sometimes the case that cards of the same value can be split, whilst in some locations you’re only allowed to split if you’ve got two Aces. There are also games like Shoot Pontoon, which add together the game of shoot to that of pontoon to make a game that is quite convoluted. Regardless of the game, if you go bust you are out and pontoon remains the winning hand.
The Differences with Blackjack
Reading about pontoon, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it sounds incredibly similar to blackjack. That is because there are major similarities, which isn’t a surprise when you remember that it comes from the same French game of vingt-et-un. If you’re a keen player of card games then there’s a chance that you’ll already know the differences, but if you’re playing blackjack having played pontoon then you’ll need to remember the key factors that separate the two games. Pontoon is British, which isn’t important for the gameplay but is an interesting point nevertheless.
Irrespective of the game that you’re playing, the main aim is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over it, thereby being bust. The cards also have the same value in the two game types, whilst the best hand in the two games is made up of an Ace and a face card or a 10. The only difference on that front is that that hand is known as blackjack in one game and pontoon in another, with the name of the hand also being the name of the game. The first big difference comes in the form of the payout that you’ll get for hitting either blackjack or pontoon.
When you’re playing blackjack, the payout for getting 21 with an Ace and a card worth ten points is that the payout tends to be 3/2. In pontoon, however, the payout is 2/1. That means you’re getting slightly less of a payout for getting the best hand possible in blackjack than if you did the same thing whilst playing pontoon. Another key difference can be seen in how the cards are dealt. In blackjack, the dealer’s cards are dealt face up, whilst in pontoon they remain face down throughout. This means that blackjack players have more information to judge their decisions from than pontoon players.
The next big difference is the one that you already know about: the five card tricks is a thing in pontoon but isn’t in blackjack. Whether you like it or not, getting five cards that add up to 21 or less means nothing when you’re playing blackjack. In pontoon, on the other hand, it might mean you’ve won the hand, unless the dealer also has 21 or pontoon. The five card Charlie also pays out 2/1, just like getting pontoon does. Whilst it might not be a winning hand like pontoon, it still sees players getting paid out in a manner that will appeal to the majority of people.
Another difference between the two games comes in the form of the dealer and the player getting the same hand. In blackjack, if both the player and the dealer end up with the same hand, the result is a ‘push’. That means that you get your stake money returned to you and you’ve neither won nor lost. In pontoon, on the other hand, players and dealers getting the same hand results in the dealer winning. Things are moved in the favour of the dealer, which probably helps to explain why it is that the payout amount is a touch larger for pontoon players over those playing blackjack.
Can You Stick?
In both games, players need to decide to whether to stick with the cards that they’ve been dealt or whether they should twist and take more cards. The bad news is that when you’re playing pontoon you’ll have no choice but to twist if you’ve less than 15. Of course, the fact that you don’t know what the dealer has got makes this slightly easier to stomach, but it is still annoying that you have to take a big risk if you have a medium hand like 14. Things are evened out slightly by the fact that the dealer has to twist if they have been dealt a soft 17, increasing the chance of them going bust.
Another variation between the two games comes in the form of the player being able to double irrespective of the total that they’re on. After doubling in blackjack you would be limited to one more card, but that isn’t the case in pontoon. You can also double at any point during the hand in pontoon, meaning that you can receive a couple of cards from the dealer and then choose to double. It means that some of the rules in pontoon favour the dealer, whilst some favour the player. The same is true of blackjack, of course, with it being different rules that favour each player in the two games.
Perhaps the most important thing that you’ll want to know about pontoon is what the House Edge is. Typically speaking, it comes in at 0.38%, which is significantly lower than the 2% that tends to be standard in blackjack. If you play Basic Strategy then you’re able to lower that Edge to about 0.62%, which is still more than the one being offered by pontoon. In other words, if you’re in a casino that offers both pontoon and blackjack then you’re probably best placed choosing to play pontoon, provided you remember the things we’ve told you here about the differences between the two games.
In terms of the stats, hitting a five card trick is about 1 in 165. Being dealt blackjack or pontoon, on the other hand, comes in at about 1 in 20. It is odd that a much more unlikely scenario is of lower value than the less likely outcome, but that is probably due to the fact that someone got a five card trick in pontoon once and decided that it meant that they won, so it was added into the folklore of the game. Regardless, from a playing point of view you’re going to want to stick when playing pontoon if you’ve got 15 or over, whereas it will depend on what the dealer has got in blackjack.