The game of Hearts, very similar in many ways to the game of Spades, centers on the acquisition of points. This is the major difference betwen this and other “suit” games (Spades, Rook, etc) and it changes the gameplay entirely.
The object in Hearts is to take as few points as possible, by getting rid of high point value cards and sticking your opponents with them. Earn over 100 points and you lose the game.
Traditionally, Hearts requires only four players but other versions of the game exist for three, five or even more players. For this article we’ll focus on traditional four player Hearts.
Dealing and Playing Hearts
A player chosen ahead of time deals out all the cards in a standard 52 card deck, dealing them one at a time, clockwise from player to player, beginning at the dealer’s left and ending (of course) with the dealer. In the four handed game, each player will hold a hand of thirteen cards. The position of dealer moves left from hand to hand.
At the beginning of each round of Hearts, every player chooses three cards to pass to an opponent. This is where a lot of your strategy comes in — choosing which cards to get rid of. Since a typical game of Hearts lasts four hands, there are four different card passing scenarios — during the first hand, you pass your cards to the opponent on your left, during the second hand you pass them to the right, during the third hand you pass the cards across, and during the “final” or fourth hand, you don’t pass any cards at all.
When it is time to pass cards to your opponent, you must pick out three cards and put them face down in front of you. You should only pick up the cards passed to you once all players have their chosen cards on the table in front of them. Remember — card passing goes “left, right, across, hold”, no matter how many hands you have to play.
As with many card games, there is a standard for who leads — in Hearts, the player holding the two of clubs leads every hand.
The game of Hearts is a “No Trump” game, which means no trump is decided ahead of time, and that whatever suit is led is the trump for that trick.
Taking Tricks in Hearts
Players are required to follow the leader’s suit and the gameplay moves left from the hand’s leader. If a player leads a club, every player who has a club in their hand must play a club. The player who lays down the highest card of the trump suit for that hand takes the trick — and unlike other games, taking a trick in Hearts is a bad thing.
Here’s an example — if a 10 of Diamonds is led, and the other players lay down a 5 of Clubs, the King of Hearts and the Jack of Diamonds, the Jack of Diamonds takes the trick even though the King of Hearts is a higher card. This allows players to get rid of (or “slough”) highly ranked Hearts or the dreaded Queen of Spades in the space of otherwise insignificant cards. In layman’s terms — the game of Hearts is a game of screwing your opponents.
Why Hearts and the Queen of Spades you ask? These cards count extra against you if you “win” them in tricks. Each Heart that you win in a trick is worth a point and the Queen of Spades counts for thirteen points all by herself. Remember — you DON’T want points in the game of Hearts. You want as few points as possible.
Hearts are not allowed to be led until they have been “broken” (given to another player during a trick).
The one exception to this rule is if a player has ONLY Hearts in his hand and can play nothing else. If Hearts haven’t been “broken” by that point, and you have no other suits to play, you can lead Hearts.
Each hand of Hearts has a potential of 26 points to be handed out to your opponents. The object of the game is to avoid taking tricks that contain hearts or the Queen of Spades.
One point to remember — there is a way to take all the Hearts and the Queen of Spades and dose out the pain to your opponents. If a player takes all of a hand’s points (all Hearts and the Queen of Spades) is granted the ability to hand out 26 points to all of the opposing players. This is referred to as “running” — going for a “run” is a gamble, because if you miss a single Heart or happen to skip out on the Queen, your shot at a “run” is set and you take on over a quarter of the points needed to lose.
At the end of each hand, the points totals are tallied. The game of Hearts ends as soon as one player or goes over 100 points. The person with the lowest score when the first player goes over 100 is declared the winner.
A few strategy notes related to the passing of cards — First, it is always a mistake to pass any low Spades. The Jack of Spades or lower are considered “low”, because they are safe leads to avoid the Queen. Also, you might find that one of your opponents has passed you the Queen of Spades — in this case, back up the Queen with plenty of lower Spades so you don’t hand the Queen to yourself.
If you are dealt the Queen of Spades, the decision to pass it or not can be troubling. I suggest you hold the Queen if you have at least three Spades to back it up. Pass the Queen if you don’t have backup Spades. Why would you hold the worst card on the table? At least this way you know where it is, and you can often work it so that YOU play the Queen into someone else’s trick.
Another strategy when passing cards — get rid of either the suit of Diamonds or Clubs. Lacking a suit entirely is called being “void”, and being “void” of Diamonds or Clubs really helps you to be able to get rid of Hearts or “slough” them into another player’s pile. Your goal should be to hold a totally unbalanced hand of cards — a ton of Hearts and very few or none of the other suits.