How to play Hearts

By Neal - 4/24/2023

The card game of Hearts is a trick-taking card game in the Whist family — others include Spades and Bridge. What makes Hearts unique is that you want to avoid taking the tricks. At the end of the game, the player with the lowest score wins.

Type of game: Evasion trick-taking

Number of cards: Standard 52-card deck (no jokers)

Number of players: Usually 4; there are variants for 2-6 players


Score at the end of each hand as follows:

  • Heart = 1 point each
  • Queen of spades = 13 points
  • Shooting the moon = 0 points

Shooting the moon: If a player takes all 13 hearts and the queen of spades, that player scores 0 points, and all other players score 26 points.


How to Deal

  • 4 players: Deal each player 13 cards, face down. (A four-player game is the most common.)
  • 2 Players: Remove all 3s, 5s, 7s, 9s, Jacks, and Kings. Deal each player 13 cards.
  • 3 Players: Remove the 2 of diamonds and deal each player 17 cards.
  • 5 players: Remove the 2 of diamonds and the 2 of clubs and deal each player 10 cards.
  • 6 players: Remove the 2 and 3 of diamonds and the 3 and 4 of clubs. Deal each player 8 cards.

Passing Cards

Before the hand begins, each player looks at their cards and chooses 3 to pass face-down to an opponent. You must pass cards before checking the cards you’ll get in return. In a 4-player game, the passing rotation is:

  • Round 1: Pass to the left.
  • Round 2: Pass to the right
  • Round 3: Pass across the table.
  • Round 4: No pass.

This passing order will repeat until the end of the game.


Each player contributes one card per turn to a pile in the middle of the table. This pile is known as a “trick.” After the first player leads with a card face-up, each other player has to play a card in the same suit if possible.

The player with the 2 of clubs leads the first trick. If the 2 has been removed, the 3 of clubs will lead. Gameplay will continue clockwise from the lead player.

If a player doesn’t have a card in the leading suit, he or she can play any card. This is called throwing the suit. For the first trick in Hearts, no one can play a heart or the queen of spades.

Once everyone has played a card, the highest card of the suit that led wins the trick and that player must take those cards. The winner of the trick will play the first card in the next trick.

Breaking Hearts

Breaking hearts is when a player doesn’t have a card in the suit that led, so they play a heart. No one can lead with a heart until hearts have been broken.

The queen of spades can lead at any time.

Note: There is no trump suit in a game of hearts.

The End of a Hand

Once all 13 tricks have been played, each player counts their points. If no one has reached 100 points, shuffle and redeal the cards.

End of game

The game of Hearts usually ends when a player reaches 100 points. For an in-person game, you can predetermine any number of points. Once that number is reached, the player with the fewest points wins.


A revoke in a trick-taking game is a rule violation to the degree that the round becomes invalid. In Hearts, this usually happens when a player doesn’t follow suit even though they have a card to do so.

A player caught in a revoke is given 26 penalty points for the round, and all other players receive zero.

Hearts Strategies

Since the object of the game of Hearts is to get the lowest number of points possible, it’s important to strategize your turns based on the playing cards you’re dealt. These 5 strategies should get you started.

1. Make a plan before passing cards.

Before you pass cards, try to make a game plan based on your hand. If you have a hand with mostly low cards, get rid of the 3 highest cards. If you have mostly high cards and feel confident you could shoot the moon, pass your low cards.

This is an opportunity to give someone else a weaker starting point. Choose wisely.

2. Create voids in your suit options.

Getting rid of all cards from one suit early will ensure someone else ends up taking all tricks led with that suit. It also allows you to break hearts or dump the queen of spades.

Before passing cards, check out your suit array. If you have only 3 cards of any suit, pass those 3 cards.

Now, when someone plays a spade, you can break suit with the hearts in your hand.

3. Pay attention when other players throw suits.

You can learn a lot about other players’ hands when they have to throw suits. For instance, if a player has to break hearts when the leading suit is a club, you know to avoid high-value clubs on the next trick.

4. Play high cards fast.

At the beginning of a hand, it’s more likely the other players will still have cards in every suit. So, unless you’re trying to shoot the moon, you should get rid of your high cards before hearts have broken.

Note: If you have mostly high cards, it might be worth using them strategically. You may be able to shoot the moon.

5. Play your spades.

If you have the ace or king of spades, try to use them to throw a suit if you can — you don’t want to get stuck with them while someone else still has the queen.

On the other hand, playing the low-value spades can force another player to play the queen and ensure you don’t have to take it.

If you have the queen, be on the lookout for your first opportunity to dump it — and definitely get rid of it before the last trick.

Variations of Hearts

As with most card games, there are a number of Hearts variations. Over the years, players have altered the rules of Hearts for more variety, challenge, and fun. Here are a just a few variants:

Jack of Diamonds Variant

The Jack of Diamond variant assigns -10 points to the Jack of diamonds. This is beneficial to the player who takes it in a trick, adding another strategic level to gameplay.

Spot Hearts

In this version of Hearts, the only difference is the amount penalty points per card.

  • Numbered cards take points equivalent to their value — the 2 is worth 2 points, 3 is worth 3 points, etc.
  • Jack of hearts = 11 points
  • Queen of hearts = 12 points
  • King of hearts = 13 points
  • Ace of hearts = 14 point
  • Queen of spades = 15 points

Because the point values are so high in Spot Hearts, it is worth determining a higher target score to end the game. We recommend 300-500.

Team Hearts

While unusual, it is possible to play hearts with partners. There are 2 ways for 4 players to play hearts in teams. In both instances, your teammate sits opposite you at the table.

  1. Partners keep their tricks in a shared pile. If a team shoots the moon, they can either assign 26 points to the other team or subtract 26 points from their own total score.
  2. Each player keeps score individually, then adds totals at the end to determine the winning team. This way, it’s possible for a team to win even if one of its members goes over 100 points.

Black Maria

This is a British variant of Hears, also called Dirty Lady and Slippery Bitch. It is usually played with 3 players, so the 2 of clubs is removed. Other key differences are:

  • The player to the left of the dealer always leads the first trick.
  • Cards are always passed to the right.
  • Additional penalties are added for the Ace (7 points) and King (10 points) of spades.

History of Hearts

Hearts is a trick-taking card game usually played by 4 players. Its origins can be traced back to 1750s Spain, where its ancestor game, Reverse, was played.

In the next 100 years, various penalty cards were added, and the game slowly became known as Hearts.

In the 1880s, Hearts came to the United States, where it was also known as Black Lady. Hearts became more widely popular once it became included with every Windows OS.

While the game is no longer included with Windows, you can play Hearts free online