By Neal Taparia - 9/6/2023
You’re sitting around the table with your friends, a deck of cards fanned out before every player, and a strong sense of competition can be clearly noticed in the air. What is the game you’re playing? We’re hoping it’s Hearts.
But as with any card game, simply knowing the rules isn’t enough to guarantee a win. Emerging victorious consistently takes still and strategy, which only comes with enough practice. To help you in the process, we’ve prepared an overview of some of the most effective strategies created for the classic game of Hearts.
Before we get into more advanced techniques, let’s refresh some basic concepts:
The main goal of the game is to score as few points as possible. Each heart card is worth one point, and the Queen of Spades carries a whopping 13 – make sure to avoid that card at all cost. Hearts and the Queen of Spades can’t be played unless they’ve been “broken”, which means a player had nothing else to play (though a player can also open with the Queen).
The most important strategy you want to employ each round is controlling the Queen of Spades, since she’s worth 13 points and it’s extremely difficult to win with her in your pool. When passing cards, make sure you don’t have any cards that might force you to play the Queen of Spades.
For example, let’s say you have the King or Ace of Spades, but you don’t have the Queen. Consider passing them to protect yourself, as these cards can easily force you to collect the Queen if the game doesn’t go according to your plan. You might think this is basic knowledge, but you’d be surprised how many players hold these cards in their starting hand.
Counting cards is a very advanced technique – but you can start with just counting the spades. The number and rank of the spades discarded can tell you when a player will be forced to play the Queen, as well as what other cards the players might have. For example, if you know that an Ace of Spades is still in play and a player will be forced to play it, you can safely play a King on a Queen of Spades and know you won’t collect it.
Sometimes your hand will be full of hearts, but that’s not always necessarily a bad thing. If you know how to break hearts early, you can force other players to change their strategy to avoid gaining extra penalties.
Remember – you cannot play a heart card as the first play, and hearts cannot be played until a player has no other card to play for the first time. Try to get rid of a suit you have the least of and force a round where you’re not leading, and can’t follow the lead suit. It might be worth it to get rid of a single color completely if possible during passing.
Breaking hearts early can be a powerful move, but it requires careful planning – only try this tactic when you’re sure it will give you an upper hand.
It’s important to get rid of your high-value cards as quickly as possible to avoid being forced to collect hearts (or worse, the Queen of Spades) later in the game. The quicker you dispose of them, the lower your risk of accumulating points in future rounds.
For example, if you have high spades but not the Queen in your hand, you still run the risk of winning a trick that contains the Queen if another player throws it. Dump your high spades to minimize the risk, but watch out not to unwittingly grab the Queen. Pay attention to what your opponents play and judge when it might be the safest to play your high cards. There is always a risk involved, but good observation skills will go a long way in Hearts.
You can try winning a few early tricks, since players will usually be less likely to play their high-penalty cards (depending on the variant you’re playing) in the initial rounds. Be wary – as you dump your high-value cards, other players will too, which might make you unable to play a trick you don’t win.
One of the most difficult strategies in Hearts is “Shooting the Moon”, which happens when a player wins all the hearts and the Queen of Spades. If a player can achieve this, they receive zero points for the round – but all other players must add 26 penalty points to theirs. While very risky and hard to pull off, when performed right, it can be a game changer.
To execute Shooting the Moon, you’ll need a perfect hand. Attempt this only if you have a majority of high cards, especially high hearts and spades. Don’t let the other players know what you’re trying to do – win a few non-heart tricks initially to throw others off. When you’re confident that you can secure all hearts and the Queen, start collecting.
One missed card, and this strategy could backfire horribly, scoring you a lot of penalty points and potentially making it impossible (or at least very difficult) to make up later. It’s safer to perform this in one of the final rounds, but it always depends on your hand.
Always be vigilant when playing Hearts. Try to remember which high-value cards have been played and which yet have not – this can guide your decisions on when to play or avoid certain cards.
If you play with the same group of people often, you’ll start to notice patterns. Some often try breaking hearts early, while others might hoard spaces for late game. Use these observations to your advantage and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Winning at Hearts is definitely not only based on luck. Strategy, observation, and bluffing are all huge parts of this classic card game. The next time you’re dealt a bad hand, remember these strategies and play smart – maybe you’ll be able to win, or at least limit the penalty points you get.