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Hearts Card Game

Updated on February 1, 2010

Hearts is a card game for three to seven persons, each playing for himself, based on the reverse principle of striving to lose tricks rather than win them. A standard deck is used, the cards in each suit ranking from ace (high) to deuce. There is no suit ranking and no trump. (Hearts are often called trumps but do not have the trump privilege.) Cards are drawn for the deal and low card deals. The deal rotates to the left, and the deck is dealt one card at a time. With other than four players, some small cards must be removed to equalize the hands. For example, if six play, the 2 of Clubs, 3 of Clubs, 2 of Diamonds, and 2 Spades are set aside; if five play the 2 of Clubs and 2 of Spades are discarded; and if three play, the 2 of Clubs is removed.

Eldest hand (player to the dealer's left) leads to the first trick, and the winner of each trick leads to the next. Each player in turn must follow suit if he can, otherwise any discard may be made; the trick is won by the highest card of the suit. Each heart taken in a trick adds one minus point to a player's score. Players try to avoid winning (being painted with) any hearts and thus keep their score low.

In hearts there is no standard number of points that constitutes a game, and any number of deals may be played. At the end of each deal the number of hearts taken by each player is recorded. At the end of the game the totals of all players are added to a grand total and divided by the number of players to determine the average score. Then, if chips or money is used, each player pays or collects for the difference between the average and his own score.

An alternative method of scoring is called sweepstake. Before the game an equal number of chips is distributed to each player. Then, after the play of a deal, each player puts a chip in the pot for each heart he wins. If one player won no hearts, he is clear and wins the pot. If two are clear they divide the pot. If every player is painted the pool is a jack and is added to the next pot. If one player takes all 13 hearts, the pot is likewise a jack.

Hearts Has Many Variants

In spot hearts the rank of the heart card is counted: ace costs 14, king 13, queen 12, jack 11, and the others their pip value. In joker hearts the 2 of Hearts is set aside and a joker added. The joker ranks between the Jack of Hearts and the 10 of Hearts. The joker may not be played by discard, unless a high heart has previously been discarded upon the same trick. In scoring the joker costs five points. In heartsette, the full 52-card deck is dealt out evenly as far as it will go. The odd cards form a widow, which goes to the player winning the first trick.

The most popular variant is black lady, or black Maria, which is the version of the game found in the default MS Hearts. In this game, besides each heart counting one, the Queen of Spades counts 13 against the one who wins it. After the deal each player passes face down any three cards of his original hand to his right-hand adversary. (With five or more players, only two cards are passed.) If one player wins 13 hearts and the Queen of Spades, it is a take-all (also known as 'shoot the moon'), and 26 points are subtracted from his cumulative total. Shooting the moon is a risky play strategy, particularly among real players and not computer opponents.

Omnibus, a variant of black lady and generally played with four, counts the 10 of Diamonds as 10 plus points for the player winning it in a trick. For a take-all a player must win all 13 hearts, the Queen of Spades, and the 10 of Diamonds, which totals 36 points. The game lasts until one player reaches minus 100 points.


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