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How to Play Hearts

Hearts is both a trick-taking and trick-avoiding card game that you typically play with four players. You play the game in rounds that contain 13 tricks, and players who take tricks containing heart cards (1 point each) and/or the queen of spades (13 points) are given points. You continue playing rounds and tallying points until someone reaches 100 points, at which point, the winner with the lowest score wins.

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End with the lowest score once a player reaches 100 points by taking tricks that don’t contain penalty cards, unless you are trying to shoot the moon.

How to Play a Round of Hearts

You play as many rounds as needed until a player reaches 100 points. These steps detail how to play hearts by explaining how each round is played:

  1. Thirteen cards are dealt to each player. Each player receives 13 cards, so the entire deck is dealt. For each round, each person plays one card per trick, so each round has 13 tricks.
  2. Pass three cards (every three out of four rounds). You have the chance to pass cards you don’t want before each round begins. Begin the first round by passing to the person on your left. Then for the next two rounds you continue passing to the person next in line going clockwise. So in round two, pass to the person across from you and then to the person to your right in the third round. In the fourth round, you must play with the cards you are dealt. Then repeat the passing pattern with subsequent rounds.
  3. The player with the two of clubs leads the first trick. Each round begins by playing the two of clubs. Once that card is led, play continues clockwise until each player has played a card. Players must follow suit (play a club), but if they don’t have a club they can play anything except the queen of spades or a heart during the first trick. The player that plays the highest club takes the first trick.
  4. Play the remaining tricks. After the first trick, all players must follow the suit of whichever card is led. So if Player 2 wins the first trick by playing the highest club, they lead the second trick. If Player 2 leads a six of diamonds for the second trick, all subsequent players must play diamonds if they have them. The player with the highest ranking card of the lead suit wins the trick and must lead the next trick. So if Player 4 plays the highest diamond card, Player 4 wins the trick and then leads the next one.
  5. Wait for hearts to be broken. Hearts and the queen of spades are penalty cards, and they cannot be played during the first trick. While the queen of spades can be played any time after the first trick, hearts cannot be played unless they are “broken.” If a player doesn’t have a card to play that matches the suit that is led, they can play a heart as long as it isn’t the first trick. Once a heart is played, hearts are broken and any player can play a heart if they don’t have the lead suit.
  6. Score the round. When the round finishes, players receive 1 point for each heart they took in the tricks they won and 13 points for taking the queen of spades. All other cards are worth nothing. If one player took every heart and the queen of spades, they have shot the moon, and then all other players are penalized with 26 points even if they took no tricks at all. Players keep a running score of their penalty points after each round until someone reaches 100. At that point, the person with the lowest score wins the game.

Hearts Rules

Trick-taking games usually have unique rules that set them apart from other games of their kind. These Hearts rules will make sure you play each round properly:

  • The player with the two of clubs must begin the round. No other cards begin a round except the two of clubs. Whichever player has the card must lead it for the first trick of that round.
  • No one can play hearts or the queen of spades in the first trick. In the first trick, no one is allowed to play cards that give penalty points. So hearts and the queen of spades are never played in the first trick. If you cannot follow suit in the first trick (you don’t have clubs), then you can play any diamond or any other spade except the queen.
  • You must follow suit. For every trick, you have to play a card that matches the suit that was led. For example, if diamonds lead, then all players must play a diamond card if they have them. Players that don’t have a card in the lead suit can “slough off,” which means they play a card from another suit. If it’s the first trick, you can’t slough off with any heart or the queen of spades.
  • You must pass cards at the beginning of most rounds. Three of every four rounds begin by passing three cards to another person. You begin by passing to the person your left and continue in a clockwise manner for subsequent rounds. Every fourth round would be back to you, so you keep all the cards you are dealt. Repeat the pattern of passing with subsequent rounds.
  • You must play the highest card of the lead suit to win a trick. For each trick, the highest ranking card for the lead suit wins the trick. If the four of spades is led, and the next three players play the five, ten, and jack of spades, whoever played the jack of spades wins the trick. Off-suit cards, including penalty cards worth points, are meaningless when it comes to winning the trick.
  • You must wait for hearts to be “broken” before playing one. You cannot play hearts in the first round at all, but in subsequent rounds, if a player doesn’t have a card to play that matches the suit that led, they can play a heart. Once a heart is played, they are broken, which means anyone can play a heart. The queen of spades is worth more points but doesn’t have a similar rule. You can play it anytime after the first trick.

Strategies to Win Hearts

The game is a simple one to play, but with opponents trying to shoot the moon or pass high-point cards your way, utilizing these Hearts strategies helps you play hearts with precision:

Focus on voiding suits.

Getting rid of an entire suit gives you the opportunity to slough off your penalty cards so you can avoid taking tricks that have points. You can void a suit in two ways—giving away cards of the suit when passing cards at the beginning of a round or playing the suit out of your hand as soon as possible. If you only have three clubs but also you have the queen of spades or a couple of high-ranking hearts, consider passing all the clubs. Although you can still be passed clubs from another player, you have already increased your chances of giving someone else those point cards when you can’t follow suit.

Know which cards are worth passing to another player and when.

You have to make a decision each round based on the cards you’re dealt, but some cards are never worth keeping and others aren’t worth it most of the time.

  • Always pass the two of clubs. No penalty points can be played in the first trick so don’t waste it by getting stuck with the lead. Use that time to play a higher ranking club instead.
  • Pass the queen of spades every time unless you plan to shoot the moon. If you don’t have enough low-ranking spades to shield you from possibly taking the queen of spades in a trick, then pass the king and ace of spades.
  • Consider passing the jack, queen, and king of hearts if you don’t have many low-ranking hearts. The ace of hearts might be worth keeping though to stop opponents from shooting the moon.

Take the lead strategically early in the game.

Taking the lead doesn’t always mean you’ll win the trick and take penalty cards. In fact, controlling the lead in the beginning of the game can draw out penalty cards. For example, if you win the first trick with a high-ranking club, you can lead low-ranking spades to force an opponent to play the queen and give someone else the penalty card.

Count the cards.

Each suit has 13 cards, so keep track of what is played. If you notice that 10 spades, including the queen have been played, but you still have three left in your hand, you know not to lead spades. Especially late in the game, you could end up retaining the lead until the end of the round, taking penalty points in each trick, if you lead cards in a suit that no one else, or nearly no one else has.

Keep low hearts.

As soon as you see you have hearts in your hand, you may want to pass them all. However, other players are likely to pass their higher ranking hearts to you. So having lower ranking hearts gives you a buffer so that you can follow suit when hearts are led, but not take the trick and all the penalty points that come with it.

Recognize when an opponent is trying to shoot the moon.

Shooting the moon is a risky strategy, but it’s usually easy to spot if you know what to look for. If an opponent takes a trick that contains the queen of spades and immediately leads big with high-ranking heart, they are likely trying to shoot the moon. Similarly, if hearts are broken and an opponent takes the trick and then leads back high-ranking hearts, they are probably trying to shoot the moon. Shooting the moon depends on taking tricks in the middle to the end of the game. So look for someone trying to maintain control of the lead after the first few tricks.

Stop opponents attempting to shoot the moon.

If you notice the signs that a player is shooting the moon, you have a couple of options. First, if you kept the ace of hearts, play it when someone leads hearts. If you don’t have the ace of hearts, then strategically slough off with a low heart, if possible, when you know the player who is trying to shoot the moon can’t win the trick.

Variations of Hearts

Although you typically play Hearts with four players, you can play variations to accommodate other group sizes. See our guides on how to play Hearts with two playersthree playersfive players, or six players.

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