Hello everyone! My name is Dan, I work at the Main Library, and I love games. In this series of posts, I’m going to be teaching you how to play some classic games that are easy to learn, fun to play, and quite possibly already in your home! Today’s game still only needs a deck of cards, but you will need some friends to play with. Let’s learn about Hearts!

Hearts is a member of a family of games called “trick-taking games.” In these games, the play consists of one player “leading” a card, then the remaining players play a card in turn around the table. These cards are called a “trick.” The player who wins the trick takes all the cards in the trick and then leads for the next trick. This continues until all the cards in each player’s hand have been played, at which point the hand is scored.  Then the deck is shuffled and the next hand is dealt.

Hearts is traditionally played with four people, although it’s possible to play with only 3 or as many as 6. First, choose someone to be the first dealer. That player will shuffle and deal out the whole deck, giving everyone a hand of 13 cards. (If you are playing with 3 players, remove the two of clubs from the deck, for a 5 player game remove the two of clubs and the two of diamonds, and for a 6 player game, remove the twos of clubs, diamonds, and spades and the three of clubs. In each case, the whole deck will be dealt out evenly, with each player having the same number of cards.) Each player looks at and organizes their hand, and the player to the dealer’s left will lead the first trick.

Other players must play a card of the same suit as the card led (“follow suit”) if they have one. If not, they are free to play any card. The winner of the trick is the player who plays the highest card in the suit led. Here’s some examples of how this works:

In this example, the three of spades was led and each player followed suit. The player who played the 10 of spades wins the trick and leads a card for the next trick.

But what if not everyone follows suit?

The three of clubs was led. It was followed by the seven and then the ten of clubs, but the final player was out of clubs and dropped the jack of hearts instead. Who wins this trick?

Even though the jack was the highest overall card, it wasn’t in the suit led, so it’s ineligible to win. The ten of clubs, as the highest card played in the led suit (clubs) takes the trick. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, though, as we’ll soon find out.

When everyone has played all the cards in their hands (13 tricks in the four-player game), points are scored depending on what cards each player has taken in their won tricks. In Hearts, points are a bad thing! Every heart taken is worth one point, and one especially dreaded card, the queen of spades, is worth 13 points all by herself. All other cards are worth no points and can be ignored. For example, these cards: 

are worth 1 point for each of the hearts, plus 13 for the queen of spades, resulting in a total of 17 points, a rough hand for sure. 

Because cards are either negative or at best neutral, Hearts is sometimes described as a “trick avoidance” game rather than a trick-taking game, but a major part of the strategy is playing your high cards and winning tricks when they will do no damage or at least minimal damage to your score. There is also one way out if you find yourself taking a lot of points: if one player takes all the point scoring cards in a hand (all 13 hearts and the queen of spades), that player loses 26 points instead of gaining them! This is called “shooting the moon” and is a great way to turn the tables when the other players have been gleefully handing you hearts.

After scoring, the player to the left of the dealer becomes the new dealer, and another hand is dealt. Hands are played until one player crosses a threshold of points (usually 100, but you can use 50 if you want a shorter game). At that point, whoever has the least points wins.

As can be expected for any game that’s well over a century old, Hearts has plenty of variations and house rules. Feel free to mix and match any of these with the standard rules, but keep in mind that others might have learned a different variation.

  • After dealing, players are allowed to pass three cards to another player. In the first hand, they pass to the player on their left; in the second hand, they pass to the right; in the third hand, they pass across the table; and in the fourth hand, there is no passing. This can help to mitigate the effects of an unlucky deal, and also adds a bit of strategy, as now you know a few cards that one of your opponents has.
  • Instead of the player to the dealer’s left leading the first trick with any card, the player with the two of clubs (after any passing) leads that card.
  • The jack of diamonds is worth -10 points. This changes the game a bit, as now there is a card that is desirable to take. Warning: this will also make the game last longer!
  • Hearts cannot be led until they have been “broken” (played when another suit has been led and the player is out of that suit).
  • No point scoring card can be played on the first trick.

Want to know more? Check out these ebooks!

Card Games Properly Explained

Como jugar y ganar a las cartas (in Spanish)

Hoyle’s Games Modernized

If there are any games you would like to see me cover in a future post, let me know in the comments or send me an email at dable@kckpl.org. Happy gaming!