Hearts is a trick taking game in which the object is to avoid winning tricks containing hearts; the queen of spades is even more to be avoided. The game first appeared at the end of the nineteenth century and is now popular in various forms in many countries. This page describes the American version first: the same game is played in Australia under the name Rickety Kate. Some remarks on other variations will be found at the end.
by Joe Andrews
The classic guide to Hearts strategy.
Players and Cards
Hearts is most commonly played by 4 people. There are no formal partnerships, though there are times when players will find it in their interest to help each other.
A standard 52 card deck is used, with the cards in each suit ranking as usual from ace (high) down to two (low). There is no trump suit.
Each heart is worth one penalty point and the queen of spades is worth 13 penalty points. The other cards have no value.
Object of Game
The object is to avoid scoring points. The game is ended by someone reaching or going over 100 points, and the winner is the player with the lowest score at this point.
Deal and Passing
Deal and play are clockwise. All the cards are dealt out one at a time, so that everyone has 13.
On the first hand, after the deal, each player passes any three cards face-down to the player to their left. When passing cards, you must first select the cards to be passed and place them face-down, ready to be picked up by the receiving player; only then may you pick up the cards passed to you, look at them and add them to your hand.
On the second hand each player passes three cards to the player to their right, in the same way. On the third hand each player passes three cards to the player sitting opposite. On the fourth hand no cards are passed at all. The cycle then repeats until the end of the game.
The Play of the Hand
The person who holds the 2 of clubs must lead it to the first trick. The other players, in clockwise order, must play a card of the suit which was led if possible. If they do not have a card of that suit, they may play any card. The person who played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick and leads to the next trick.
It is illegal to lead a heart until after a heart has been played to a previous trick, unless your hand contains nothing but hearts. Discarding a heart, thus allowing hearts to be led in future, is called breaking hearts. In general, discarding a penalty card on a trick is called painting the trick.
A player whose hand consists entirely of hearts may lead any heart, thereby breaking hearts, even if hearts have not previously been broken.
Players are permitted to lead spades to any trick after the first. In fact it is a normal tactic to lead lower spades to try to drive out the queen. This is sometimes known as smoking out the queen.
Normally, each player scores penalty points for cards in the tricks which they won. Each heart scores one point, and the queen of spades scores 13 points. However, if you manage to win all the scoring cards (which is known as a slam or shooting the moon ), your score is reduced by 26 points, or you may choose instead to have all other players' scores increased by 26 points.
The game continues until one player has reached or exceeded 100 points at the conclusion of a hand. The person with the lowest score is then the winner.
Some play that only 12 cards are dealt to each player. During the deal, four cards are dealt to a face down kitty, which is added to the tricks of the first player who takes a penalty card. A kitty can also be used to cope with the fact that the cards cannot be dealt evenly when there are more or fewer than four players .
Different passing cycles may be used, for example:
- pass left, pass right, pass across, then repeat (no hold hand);
- scatter instead of hold (players pass one card to every other player);
- both scatter and hold hands are played (the cycle is left, right, across, scatter, then hold).
- Another passing method that can be included in the cycle is "mix": everyone discards three cards to a pile in the centre, which is shuffled and then redealt to the players. If you play with a kitty, this can be shuffled in too, so that the new kitty can contain some of the discards.
Some play that players are not required to pass any cards if they do not wish to. They simply pass on the cards that were passed to them without looking at them. This could result in a player getting their own cards back.
Play of the Hand
Some players allow hearts to be led at any time. This was the original rule, but in the USA nearly everyone now plays that heart leads are forbidden unless hearts have been broken.
The original rule was that player to the left of the dealer always leads to the first trick (rather than the holder of the 2 of clubs leading it), and may lead any card. Some people still play that way. If you play with the now usual restriction on leading hearts then the opening lead can be anything but a heart.
Some play that is illegal to play points on the very first trick, unless of course you have you have nothing but penalty cards in your hand.
Some play that the Queen of Spades breaks hearts. In other words, hearts may be led anytime after the Queen of Spades or any heart has been played.
If hearts have not been played and a player is on lead holding nothing but hearts and the Queen of Spades, many people allow hearts to be led, instead of forcing the player to lead the Queen of Spades.
Some players insist that you must play the Queen of Spades as soon as it is safe to do so. This could be when you are void in the suit led or to a spade trick when the Ace or King of Spades has already been played.
Many people play that the Jack of Diamonds (or sometimes the Ten of Diamonds) is a bonus card, counting minus 10 points for the person taking it. With this form of scoring, the game is known as Omnibus Hearts. To shoot the moon, you need all the hearts and the Q, and as usual you can choose to have 26 points deducted from your score or added to everyone else's; in addition to this, 10 points are deducted from the score of the player who took the Jack of Diamonds (who may be the same player as the shooter).
Shooting the sun is taking all the tricks (as opposed to taking all points). Some score this as 52 points with the scoring handled in the same as shooting the moon.
There are variations on the choice of scores for shooting the moon. Possibilities are:
- the shooter always has 26 points deducted;
- all the other players always have 26 points added;
- all the other players always have 26 points added unless this would cause one of them to win, in which case the shooter has 26 points deducted.
For some people, reaching certain scores has a special effect. For example if your score is exactly 100 points at the end of a hand, it is reduced to 50 (or zero).
If a player reaches or exceeds 100 points and there is a tie for low score, additional hands may be played until there is a clear winner.
There are two ways that four players can play hearts in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other.
- Partners keep their tricks together. On each hand your team scores the total number of penalty points you have taken in your tricks. A slam occurs if one team takes all 14 penalty cards in a hand, they can choose give the opponents 26 penalty points or to subtract 26 penalty points from their own score.
- Each player keeps an individual score, and in order to "shoot the moon", an individual player has to win all the penalty cards. The game continues until an individual player's score reaches 100 or more; then the scores of the partners are totalled and the partnership with fewer points wins. Thus it is possible for your team to win even if it is you who go over 100. For example you have 105, your partner has 34, and your opponents have 78 and 69, then your team wins by 139 points to 147.
Other Numbers of Players
The game may be played with either three or five players. There are various ways of coping with the fact that the cards cannot all be dealt out equally to the players:
- Deal 17 cards each to three players or 10 each to five players. The one or two remaining cards are called the kitty ; they are placed in the middle of the table face down. The kitty cards should be dealt in the middle of the deal, not as the last card(s) - the last card should belong to the dealer, so that no damage is done if the dealer accidentally sees it while dealing. The player who takes the first trick (or alternatively, the first penalty point) takes the kitty and places the card(s) with his or her captured cards (the player may look at them first). If it happens that the
2 is in the kitty, the holder of the lowest club not in the kitty must lead it (if no one has the 2, ask if anyone has the 3, then the 4, and so on).
- As in method 1 above, but the person who takes the first point or trick adds the kitty to their hand and discards an equal number of cards face down into their tricks.
- With three players, remove the
2 from the deck, leaving 51 cards. With five players also remove the
2. and the holder of the
3 leads it to the first trick.
In the 3 player game, the passing may follow any one of these patterns:
- Left, right, hold, repeat.
- Left, right, repeat.
- If you pass 4 cards instead of 3 you can also scatter by passing 2 cards to each other player. You could then include scattering in either of the above rotations.
In the 5 player game, the passing could follow any of these patterns:
- Left, right, hold, repeat.
- Left, right, repeat.
- Left, right, 2nd person to the left, 2nd person to the right, hold, repeat.
- Left, right, 2nd to the left, hold, left, right, 2nd to the right, hold, repeat.
Two players can play Huse Hearts for Two. an interesting version involving a dummy hand.
Turbo Hearts, introduced at Upenn in the 1980's by Richard Garfield, is an American version of the Chinese game
Gong Zhu (Catch the Pig).
- The Jack of Diamonds is used as in the variations above.
- Whoever captures the Ten of Clubs doubles their score for that hand.
- After the pass but before the first lead each player may "turbo-charge" one of the following cards: Ace of Hearts, Queen of Spades, Jack of Diamonds, or Ten of Clubs. They do this by placing the card face up in front of them.
- A turbo-charged Queen of Spades or Jack of Diamonds doubles the value of that card for that hand.
- A turbo-charged Ace of Hearts doubles the value of all hearts for that hand.
- A turbo-charged Ten of Clubs quadruples the score for that hand of the player who captures it.
- A player may not play a turbo-charged card the first time a card of that suit is led.
Richard Garfield recommends the following variation, introduced around 1990. Booster nines work the following way. If a nine is led to a trick or played while following suit, then there is a boost. one more round is played in the same suit - i.e. a further card from each player, in rotation. The suit of the first of the eight cards played is the led suit, and the highest card of this suit takes the eight card trick. If a nine is sloughed (discarded on a lead of a different suit) or played in the last trick, there is no boost - the trick consists of just four cards as usual.
This variation makes shooting the moon somewhat easier, since you can dump a loser on your own good nine (or one drawn from an opponent).
This is a version of Hearts for 6 to 10 players using two 52 card packs shuffled together. The cards are dealt out as far as they will go, any left over cards being placed in a face-down kitty which is taken by the winner of the first trick. The player to the dealer's left leads first and can lead anything.
When two identical cards are played to a trick, they cancel each other out in terms of trick-taking power (but still carry penalty points if they are penalty cards). The trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led which is not duplicated. If all the cards played of the suit led are in cancelling pairs, the trick remains on the table, the same player leads again, and the cards go to the winner of the next trick. If the very last trick has no winner its cards go to the winner of the previous trick.
This is a variation in which the penalty value of the hearts is their pip-value. That is, the two the 2 penalty points, the three 3, the four 4, etc. The jack of hearts carries 11 penalty points, queen 12, king 13, ace 14, and the queen of spades 25.
As an alternative, some play that hearts from 2-10 are face value, all heart pictures are 10, the heart ace is 15, and the spade queen is 25.
Playing spot hearts the scores are higher, so a higher target score is needed - say 500.
This is the British version of Hearts, sometimes also called Dirty Lady. Slippery Bitch.
NB. There is also an entirely different Finnish game called Black Maria (Mustamaija in Finnish; Svarta Maija in Swedish). A description of that game will be found on the Mustamaija page .
In Black Maria there are usually 3 players; the 2 of clubs is removed from the pack and 17 cards are dealt to each player. Black Maria can also be played by four people, in which case all the cards are dealt out.
Cards always passed in same direction - the books say pass three to the right, but some players pass three to the left.
The player to dealer's left leads first and may lead anything. There is no restriction on leading hearts.
There are various alternative scoring schemes:
- 1 for each heart; 13 for the queen of spades (as in the USA)
- 1 for each heart; 13 for the queen of spades; 10 for the king of spades; 7 for the ace of spades (total 43 points)
- as in Spot Hearts: 2 - 10 of hearts face value; J, Q, K of hearts 10 points; ace of hearts 15 points; queen of spades 25 points. In this case the game is played to 500 points, not 100.
Dirty Nasty Filthy Hearts (Da Nasty Fix)
Shiva Ctylyctyc describes a Hearts variation from Florida.
- The diamond Jack counts as minus 10 (it is known as "The Lil Man" or "The Cake Daddy"). Caking is a term used to describe the act of showering someone with money, gifts, etc, for nothing in return.
- The penalty for the Queen of Spades ("The Queen Bitch") is 26 points, and the other three Queens cost 13 points apiece.
- Because of the larger number of penalty points in play, the game is played to 300 points. When someone reaches or goes over 300, the player with the lowest score wins.
- If you successfully shoot - that is, take all the counting cards cards in your tricks - you win the game, and the person to your left must vacate their seat for the next player, if any, waiting to join the game.
- No points may be thrown on the first trick ("The Calm"). As a variation, some people play "Wide Open" which, means that anything can be thrown on the first trick.
- The deuce of clubs starts - the holder leads it to the first trick.
- After the cut, but before the start of the deal, the dealer "calls pass", that is, specifies how cards will be passed for that hand. The dealer may choose any variant (for example: two to the left, one to the right), as long as each player passes and receives three cards and the method is the same for all four players. An extra option is a special pass called "Shittin' in the Kitty" - everyone passes to the middle, and those 12 cards are shuffled and dealt by the dealer.
- Throwing hearts is called "painting", running the spades suit is "Beating for the Bitch" (as in "beating the bush for. "). The Queens of Clubs and Hearts are called "The Weak Bitches" because the
Q is in the main throwoff suit, and the
Q is in the paint suit.
- Low cards are called "duckers" and it is a habit of players to yell "That ain't no duckah!" just before they paint your lead, especially if your lead should have been a ducker, but you messed up in counting.
Various tactical nuances now exist, for example:
- You now need the queen of each suit in order to shoot.
- Since you can win by shooting, it is still in no-one's interest to help you (unless they wish to get rid of the person to your left from the game).
- How to get the Jack of Diamonds without getting the Queen of Diamonds (which is called the "Rich Bitch" or "Money Bitch"; some people call it the "Thief Bitch" because it can steal your minus 10 for the jack and leave you with plus 3 instead.
- A certain amount of diplomacy comes into play, in persuading people not to help the person to your right to shoot you. They might be tempted to do this to remove you from the game if you win a lot or get obnoxious.
- This form of hearts is quite easily converted to a vicious drinking game.
Other web sites and books about Hearts
Here are some other WWW pages with rules for Hearts and its variations:
- John Hay's Hearts page. from which quite a lot of the above information was taken.
- Alan Hoyle's Hearts Page for a typical set of rules.
- Alan Hoyle has also provided a copy of the former page on the Caltech variant. a more elaborate version.
- Cavendish Rules of Hearts are available from Bob Ciaffone's web site .
- Alan Gilfoy's Hearts page
- Rickety Kate. the Australian version of Hearts, is practically identical to American Hearts. It is described on the White Knuckle Hearts site.
- Archive copy of Dave Barker's Rules for Hearts page, which covered several of the Hearts variations found in card game books.
- The British Card Game Heaven site has a Hearts page describing the standard American version of the game.
- Gong Zhu (Catch the Pig ) is an enhanced version of Hearts played in China.
- Golden Ten is a simple form of Hearts played with Rook cards.
- Larry Charbonneau's Complex Hearts page gives a variation by Richard Garfield with scoring in complex numbers; the objective is to keep the absolute value of your score less than 100.
- Super Hearts is a variation invented by Jerry Schwartz, with the scoring tweaked to make the play more demanding.
- At cribbage.ca there is a description of a French Canadian version known as Dame de Pique in which there is no passing of cards, and the first lead is made by the player to dealer's left, who is free to lead any card.
- The page Comment gagner à la Dame de pique (archive copy) described the American version of Hearts that shipped as a computer game with Microsoft Windows, and gives advice on strategy.
- The Hearts Variations page in the Invented Games section of pagat.com has further variations submitted by readers of this site.
An excellent guide to the strategy of Hearts can be found in Joe Andrews' book Win at Hearts. a new and expanded edition of which was published in 1998. Here you can learn about card passing technique, spade and heart suit management, how to make and defend against slams, strip plays and advanced endplays.
Here are some Hearts computer programs and online games against computer opponents:
- TurboHearts from Interactive Systems Inc (plays normal Hearts - not the Turbo variation described on this page). A free trial version of TurboHearts is also available.
- Interactive Systems also make Hearts Wizard. a hearts program with an enhanced user interface with comprehensive review and statistics facilities. Here is the free trial of Hearts Wizard .
- With DreamQuest Software's Championship Hearts Pro you can play against computer opponents. Available for PC-Windows, Palm, Pocket PC and cell phones.
- The collection HOYLE Card Games for Windows or Mac OS X includes a Hearts program, along with many other popular card games.
- At solitaireonline.com you can play Bram Schoonhoven's Hearts game online against computer opponents.
- At patiencespelen.nl you can play Hartenjagen. the Dutch version of Hearts, online against computer opponents. This game is played with 32 cards (down to 7): each hearts is one penalty point, the queen of spades is 5 and the jack of clubs is 2, for a total of 15 points in each deal.
- You can download a freeware Hearts program from Thanos Card Games .
- The Softgame Company's Funcrd Card Games program plays hearts, Spades, Cribbage and Go Fish.
- Fat Cat Hearts is available from Accidental Software
- Einar Egilsson has published a free Java Hearts program with which you can play online against three computer opponents.
- At DKM Hearts from the CardSharp suite you can play Hearts online against three computer opponents.