Hearts is a traditional popular game played between four players. Hearts requires an entire deck of cards aside from jokers. Similar to golf, the goal is to obtain the least amount of points possible, which is achieved by avoiding picking up any heart card, or the queen of spades.
Hearts is played in individual rounds called tricks; there are 13 tricks per game. Each trick consists of all players laying one card in turn, and the player who laid down the hghest card of the suite picks up all four cards, adding them to his score if the trick includes any hearts or the queen of spades. Each heart counts for one point. The queen of spades, however, counts for 13 points in total, so this card is definitely the one to avoid at all costs, as it can single-handedly destroy a good game.
Each trick has a defining suite; the suite of the first card in a trick determines the suite that the remaining three players must play during that trick. Only under the circumstance that they do not have a card of that suite are they allowed to play a card of a different suite. The trick, and its points, will belong to the player who laid down the highest card of the defining suite.
Hearts is meant to be played for multiple rounds, with the score continuously building. It is recommended that you set a limited number of rounds, or a score by which to end the game, and declare your official winner.
- Set up: All 52 cards must be dealt out to the players in order to begin. During each round, you are able to pull aside your worst three cards, and pass them along to another player. In the first round, you must pass to your left. The second, pass to the right, and the third time you'll pass across the table. In the fourth round, there is no passing involved. This sequence continues for the duration of the game. The pass is a strategically critical moment. Before discarding the three highest cards in your hand, consider whether they truly are the most dangerous to you. If you have the queen of spades, but lack other spades, you may be forced to play the queen during a spade trick and swallow those 13 points yourself. In that case, you had better discard it in your pass. Or would you benefit from discarding three cards of the same suite? The tactic of deliberately limiting a suite in your hand is called "short-suiting," and can enable you to get rid of bad cards during game-play without any negative repercussions to you (unless you receive 3 cards of the same suite from the other pass!).
- The player who holds the 2 of clubs must always begin the game by playing that card. Players then each in turn play a card, which must be of the same suite. The only time you are not forced to play the same suite is when you have none in your hand. In this case you throw away a card you don't wish to keep (often a heart, a face card or the dreaded queen of spades). The player who laid the highest card of the original suite picks up the trick, and it is her turn to play the first card of the next trick.
- A heart may not be lead until someone has thrown away a heart for free or has absolutely no options left to play but hearts and the queen of spades. After a heart has made it on the table, everyone is free to lead a heart.
- After all cards have been played, look through the pile of cards you have collected and award yourself one point for every heart you have collected, and thirteen if you are holding onto the queen of spades. The played with the lowest score is the winner after you have played as many rounds as was set before the game.
- However, the game of hearts does come with its own unique twists and turns. Always be mindful of an alternate strategy called "shooting the moon." If you manage to collect all 26 points (13 hearts and the queen of spades) you've shot the moon and are given an option: either subtract 26 points from your score, or add it to everyone else's. This is a huge strategy in hearts, because if you are dealt a horrible hand, you can opt to keep those awful cards and collect all the cards that everyone is trying to avoid. Shooting the moon is no easy task; it requires serious planning before the first card is played, and then a good poker face as you try not to rouse the suspicion of your opponents. Alternatively, it is important to keep a close eye out for someone else adopting this strategy. If you begin to notice someone securing a lot of hearts in succession, you may want to take a heart or two for the sake preventing her from accomplishing this key move. Watch for someone giving you low cards in the pass, as this could be a big indication of his intentions.
- Looking for more: There are several popular optional rules people can impose in their games. You can make the jack of diamonds as a scoring card as well, assigning it a value of negative 10 points. You can also deal out only 12 cards per person in a game, leaving four cards undealt and face-down. These four cards form a surprise trick given to the person who takes the first point of a game.
Now that you are ready to play, gather up three friends and jump into the excitement. Remember, the way to succeed at hearts is to have a solid plan and a keen memory for what has and hasn't been played. Try to get rid of an entire suite early if possible, as this will enable you to ditch your high-scoring cards. Watch out for someone trying to shoot the moon. Most importantly, always be prepared for the queen of spades!
Have fun, and get playing!