How to Play Dirty Hearts, along with Strategies and Tips to Win

By Neal Taparia - 4/9/2024

How to play Dirty Hearts

Dirty Hearts, also known as Hearts, Black Maria, and Black Lady, is a fun and engaging way to kill time with your friends. Let us show you how to play Dirty Hearts and win it.

Dirty Hearts Tutorial

Dirty Hearts is a trick-taking game introduced in the U.S. in the ‘80s, a variation of the British version Reverse. It’s a four-player game where the players avoid winning tricks and gathering penalty cards.

By the end, the player with the lowest score wins the game.

Card Values

You need a standard 52-card deck without the jokers to play the game. You also need a pen and paper to record the players’ scores.

Every single card of the heart suit is worth one penalty point. The queen of spades, also called the Black Maria, is worth 13 points.

Every other card is worth zero.

Passing of Cards

One player deals the card clockwise to the four players. Each participant should have 13 cards in their hand.

After each deal, the player will pick three cards to pass along.

For the first deal, they’ll select three cards from their hand and pass it facedown to the player to their left. They then receive three cards from the opponent on their left.

The process reverses on the second deal. The players give three cards to the right and receive three from the left.

In the third deal, the players sitting opposite each other exchange three cards. Passing cards stops at the fourth deal and resumes the cycle by the fifth deal.

The Play

The game starts after the passing of cards. The player holding the two of clubs will initiate the first trick and discard one card.

Every player must follow suit and throw out a card of the same suit as the lead unless they don’t have one. In this case, they can throw any card aside from a heart or queen of spades. This restriction only applies to the first trick, though.

The player with the highest card of the suit wins the trick. The winner will then collect the previous trick pile, place it before them for counting later, and begin the next.

You cannot play a penalty card until a heart has been “broken.” Breaking a heart happens when one player plays a heart on another player’s lead.

For example: If player one leads with a diamond but player two lacks any card of that suit. Player two can play any heart or queen of spades to “break” the hearts.

Anyone can play the Black Maria anytime after the first trick. A round will end when all the players discard all the cards in their hands.

Deciding the Winner

The game ends when one player reaches the target score the players decided before the game. This agreed-upon score ceiling can range between 100 to 300 points.

When a player hits the target score, all players must count the heart cards in their trick pile. The person with the score closest to zero is the winner.

Alternatively, anyone who collected all 13 heart cards, including the Spades queen, can win the game—a rare strategy called “Shooting the Moon.

Dirty Hearts Strategies and Tips

Dirty Hearts strategies

Hearts is a straightforward card game. However, it involves plenty of wit to win.

From choosing the cards to pass and discard to utilizing your high and low cards—there’s plenty of strategy involved that makes it more challenging.

Here are a few of them:

Keeping Your Lowest Cards

The idea is to lose as many tricks as possible, so you’ll want to discard your worst cards early in the game. Get rid of the unwanted cards that would win you the Black Maria: the ace of spades and the king of spades.

Winning the First Trick

Winning the opening trick is a great strategy to control the game’s direction. The ace of clubs will be handy in this strategy, so hold onto it.

If you don’t have the ace, use the opportunity to discard your highest club card. If you’re out of clubs, throw out your high diamonds to create a void faster.

Creating a Void of Cards

Creating a void means losing cards of one or two specific suits from your hand. This way, you can rid your hand of high cards faster early and lose later tricks that include penalty points.

You can create a void by passing three cards of the same suit during the passing stage. If you’re holding the Black Maria, creating a void allows you to discard it in an off-suit trick.

Bleeding the Spades

Bleeding spades is an excellent hack to avoid winning the Black Maria. It means leading with spades as much as possible to force the opponents holding the Q, K, and A to play them.

If you fail to bleed the spades suit early, your opponents might void a suit and dump the 13 points toward you in an off-suit trick!

Defending the Spades

If you’re the unlucky duck stuck with high spades cards, including the A, K, and Q, you’ll want to defend them. Defending means preventing other players from leading with the spades suit multiple times.

You can do it by creating a void as quickly as you can. For instance, if you’re void of diamonds and the winner from the previous trick leads it, you can then dump the queen of spades their way.

Dumping the Black Maria

Another fantastic technique if you have the dreaded Black Maria is to hold onto it until a player leads a heart card trick.

It saves you from collecting 13 penalty points and secures the win. You might have to earn a few heart cards, but you won’t lose the round!

Final Thoughts

Trick-taking card games like Dirty Hearts can be a fun way to spend quality time with your loved ones. What better way to foster bond than with a good conversion over a little card competition?

So, just play, have fun, and enjoy the game!