Mastering Hearts: Strategies for Beginners and Pros

By Neal Taparia - 11/13/2023

While Hearts may not be as popular as Poker or Blackjack, it’s still a beloved classic card game all around the world. To the inexperienced eye, Hearts may seem like a game of chance, with players simply passing cards and trying to avoid certain suits. However, as anyone who has played more than a few games will tell you, there’s much more than meets the eye. In this guide, we’ll explore tactics that can be helpful for both beginners and professionals in mastering the game of Hearts.

Understanding the Basics for Beginners

  • Know Your Objective: The main goal of Hearts is to avoid accumulating points. Typically, Hearts cards are worth one point each. In some variations of the game, other cards may carry penalties as well, most commonly the Queen of Spades which is worth thirteen. The game usually continues until one player reaches 100 points, and the player with the lowest score wins.
  • Pass Wisely: At the beginning of each round, players pass three cards to the next player. This action helps you either offload high-risk cards or tailor your hand to match a specific strategy. As a beginner, try to pass high Hearts or the Queen of Spades (if playing a variant where she counts for 13) if you think you might be forced to play them later.
  • Know When to Break Hearts: Hearts cannot be played as the first card in a trick unless they’ve been “broken” by another suit. If you don’t have a card to play that follows suit, you can always break hearts, but it might not always be the best idea.

Strategies for Intermediate Players

  • Controlling the Queen: In variants where the Queen of Spades carries 13 points, the card is often a game-changer. If you have high spades but not the Queen, consider playing them early to force her out from players who might be trying to hold onto it. Alternatively, if you have the Queen, but no easy means of discarding her safely, you can try passing in the beginning. Whether it’s better to hold or pass a Queen depends largely on the rest of your hand.
  • Shooting the Moon: In hearts, Shooting the Moon refers to one player taking all the Hearts in a round, which results in other players getting 26 points each instead, while the successful player gets none. This is a risky strategy, however, and requires a perfect hand to pull off and a lot of skill. If you find yourself with many high Hearts and the Queen of Spades in your hand, you might want to consider trying it.
  • Remembering Played Cards: One of the most helpful and most difficult strategies in Hearts is remembering which cards have been played. It takes a lot of practice and good concentration skills to master, so don’t get discouraged at first. Keep a mental note of the played cards to see what remains. If the Ace through 10 of Hearts have been played, for example, you’ll know you should get rid of your Jack to avoid scoring points.

Tips for Pro Players: Final Polishes

  • Always Be Adaptable: When you’re a good player, it’s easy to lock yourself into one strategy that works against less experienced players. While it’s always good to have a plan, if you see a better opportunity midway through a round, don’t be afraid to adapt. Better players will see your play and try to counter your strategy, so you’ll always have to stay on your toes.
  • Balance Risk and Rewards: It might be tempting to always go for a zero-point round, but it’s definitely not always the right play; sometimes, you have to score some points to avoid bigger penalties later on in the round. Remember, the key is to have the lowest score at the game’s end, not necessarily each round. Taking a few points to make sure someone else takes more can be a smart play.
  • Be Careful in Endgame: As players get closer to the 100-point mark (or whatever your score limit is), be especially cautious. You might decide to take a few points in a round if it means pushing another player over the threshold. If you’re close to 100 points yourself, however, it might be time to play conservatively and avoid any points at all.
  • Know Your Opponents: Hearts may not be as much about psychology as Poker, but it definitely plays a part besides just card strategy. Pay attention to the habits of your opponents; some of them might always pass their high cards, while others might routinely play the same strategies. Know their tendencies and use them to your advantage, especially if you’re frequently playing with the same players.
  • Protect Yourself from Shooting the Moon: If you see a player trying to Shoot the Moon and get all the Hearts, do everything in your power to take at least one point card deliberately. It’s better to score a few points than get a 26-point penalty—over a quarter of the way to losing the game.
  • Use Misdirection: Some pros will play in a way that suggests a particular strategy, only to shift partway through a round to throw their opponents off. This might give you an advantage, especially if other players are getting used to your plays.

Hearts is a timeless classic that combines luck and strategy in one intricate card game. It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting or have been playing for years; there’s always room for improvement. Make sure you understand the basics before you move on to more advanced tips and strategies, and keep these strategies in mind. We hope they’ll come in handy on your way to becoming a Hearts master.