Hearts is a classic trick-taking card game, similar to the popular game Spades. However, there are some key differences between these two games which will be further explored at the bottom of this page.
Essentially, Hearts is a fun card game using the standard Anglo-American 52-card deck that can be played with 2, 3, 4, or even more people.
How to Play Hearts?
Hearts, as a trick-taking game, involves each Player receiving a “hand.” This article will give detailed, step-by-step instructions on playing the game.
Depending on the number of players in a game, different amounts of cards will be dealt to each player.
For example, in a four-player version of Hearts (which is the standard arrangement) each Player will be dealt 13 cards.
In a non-standard variation of play involving 3, 5, 6, 7, or 8 Players, cards must be removed from the deck so that each player has an even number of cards.
Traditionally, these “discards” will be taken from the two unimportant suits of the game, diamonds and clubs. The lowest value of these unimportant suits will be taken.
For example, in a game of 7 people, 52 is not divisible by 7. Therefore, 3 cards must be discarded. Diamonds should have precedent over being discarded, as clubs are necessary for the leading hand. Therefore, in a game of 7 people, the 2♦, the 3♦, and the 2♣ should be discarded.
Starting the game
Once the deal for each hand has been determined, then the game may start. For the purposes of simplicity, the rest of this guide will assume that four-player Hearts is the game in question.
The game starts with each player receiving their 13 cards (with four players). Unlike other trick-taking games, there are no melds or bids in Hearts. However, there is passing.
This is a cutthroat game, with no teammates. All players face each other, and because of this, one should pass three “junk” cards that do not help them win.
Although hearts♥ and the Queen of Spades are negative cards to win in the trick, they might not necessarily be “junk cards” in the hand. This is because if those negative cards are in your hand, you are able to control when they are played.
Playing the Q♠ into another Player’s ace will lose you the trick, and force a 13-point card into their score total.
Each Player should pass their three cards clockwise, and then the game may begin. The lead card is always the 2♣ unless one is playing a greater-than-four-player variation. If the 2♣ was discarded at the start of the game, then the 3♣ will lead the game instead. After the first trick, the Player clockwise of the last lead Player will lead the next trick.
Cards in Hearts are valued numerically in ascending order, and aces are always high. 2-10, J, Q, K, A.
Players must do what is called “following suit.” This means that the lead card in a trick, the first card played, determines the suit of the trick. For example,
- Player 1 Leads, and plays 3♣
- Player 2 follows suit, and plays 5♣
- Player 3 has no clubs, and cannot follow suit, therefore, plays 10♦
- Player 4 follows suit, and plays 7♣
Even though, numerically, Player 3 had the highest value card, Player 3 did not follow suit and therefore could not win the trick.
The Q♠ may also be played at any time, even during the first trick. This makes Q♠ a “trump card”, one that does not have to follow suit and can still win the trick. Hearts are also trump cards, but may only be played after hearts have been “broken”.
Hearts may be broken by either playing the Queen of Spades, or when a Player cannot follow the suit of a trick, and therefore chooses to play a hearts card.
The game will continue in this way, lead card moving clockwise, until all of the tricks in a given hand have been played. In four-player Hearts, this is 13 tricks.
At the end of the hand, scores will be tallied. Then, a new hand will be played, with cards dealt out, and once again, the Player dealt the 2♣ will lead the first trick.
Ending the game
The game continues until one of the Players tallies together the score threshold. This is determined at the start of the game, and with four players is traditionally 100 points. When playing with more people, consider lowering the score threshold somewhat, or the game may take a very long time.
Once the score threshold has been reached, all Players will tally their total scores, and the lowest score wins the game.
Shooting the Moon
There is also a special game condition, called “Shooting the Moon”. If you succeed in collecting the Q♠ and all of the ♥’s, your opponents will receive 26 points. No points will be added to your score.
Alternatively, you can “Shoot for the Sun” by winning every single one of your tricks. This is usually not recommended. However, if you manage to pull it off then your opponents will have to take 52(!) points.
How Many People Can Play?
Hearts can be played by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or even 8 people. Theoretically, an infinite number of people could play in a single game of hearts, but after 8 players multiple decks of cards will have to be used.
There are some special conditions that must be recognized if you are planning on playing with a different number than the standard four-player variation. As in the seven-player example above, the 52 card deck must be divisible by the number of players. If this is not possible, cards must be discarded.
- In a 3 player variation, the 2♦ should be discarded and each player given 17 cards.
- In a five-player variation, the 2♣ and 2♦ should be discarded and each player receives 10 cards.
- In a six-player variation, four cards must be removed, those being the 2♦, 3♦, 3♣, and the 4♣ and each player will receive 8 cards.
- In an eight-player variation, the same cards will be discarded as the six-player variation, but each player will receive 6 cards instead of 8.
A summary of the basic rules of Hearts can be found below:
- Suit must be followed. Cheating, intentional or otherwise, is sometimes allowed in trick-taking games, but comes with a steep penalty if you are caught not following suit when you could have. Normally, this is a penalty of 20 points applied to the total immediately when caught cheating. As there are no tricks in the game that come with such a steep penalty, it is always in the Player’s best interest to follow the rules.
- Hearts must be broken before they are played. This means the Player leads with a ♥ card, or the Q♠ is played.
- Shooting the Moon is a difficult to achieve, and very risky, but highly rewarding play. During the course of a hand, a player must win all of the hearts and the Queen of Spades in their taken tricks. If they achieve this, that player’s score will be set to 0, and all other players will have their score increased by 26.
- In the Jack of Diamonds variation, the J♦ is worth negative ten points. This means, taking the trick with a J♦ will reduce your score by ten, making it a highly desirable card in that variation.
Scoring in Hearts is very simple. The game is scored at the end of each hand. All Players gather the hearts in their pile of taken tricks, as well as the Queen of Spades.
Each individual ♥ card is worth one point, and Q♠ is worth 13. As the goal of the game is to have the lowest score possible by the time one Player reaches 100 points, taking as few tricks with hearts or Q♠.
Shooting the Moon is worth 26 points for each Player who did not Shoot the Moon, while the Player who did will have their score automatically set to 0.
In the Jack of Diamonds variation, the Jack♦ is worth -10 points.
- Player 1: 5♥ A♠ A♥ 6♠ 5♠ K♠ 5♦ 2♥10♠Q♠ 5♣ 7♣ A♦
- Player 2: K♦ 7♥ J♥ 10♦ Q♥ 3♥ 10♣ 3♠ 2♠ 2♦ 4♦6♣ 4♥
- Player 3: 3♦ 8♥ 9♠ 8♠ 9♥ 4♣ 9♦ 7♠ Q♦ A♣ 8♣ J♦ K♣
- Player 4: 9♣ K♥ 10♥ 4♠ J♣ 6♦ 7♦ 8♦ 3♣ 6♥ K♠ Q♣ 2♣
Above is a possible hand in Hearts, as no cards have been discarded, Player 4 will lead the first trick by playing the 2♣. Leading first with the 2♣ is advantageous to the lead player, as it is unlikely they will be forced to take the trick that round.
Strategy & Tips
Here are some tips on how to win Hearts:
- Taking tricks is a bad Hearts strategy, unless you are trying to Shoot the Moon. Therefore, try to lose as many tricks as possible, unless the Jack of Diamonds variation is being played. In that case, try to win the trick that it is played in.
- Hearts is a cutthroat-style game, there are no teams. Be as sneaky as you want!
- Try to save your high-ranking cards for the end of the hand.
- Leading with a low-value heart forces all other players to play their heart cards, and makes it likely that the heart-laden trick will not be sent your way.
- When passing, try to pass cards that will not be useful: High-ranking hearts, and the Queen of Spades. Although holding onto the Queen can be advantageous, the Queen is also numerically ranked 3rd. Playing Q♠ too early could win the trick, therefore adding 13 points to your total.
Alan Hoyle has a more detailed guide on strategy
Hearts Vs. Spades: The Difference
Hearts and Spades are very similar games. They are both trick-taking games named after a particular suit, both involve trump cards and “breaking” that respective trump suit. Both games also include passing cards in their most popular variations. They also are both classic card games that became immensely popular in the American Midwest.
However, the games are, in a way, the inverse of one another. Hands and strategies that would be advantageous in Spades are the opposite in Hearts.
A high score in Spades is good, taking tricks in Spades is good. In Hearts, a high score is bad, and taking tricks is normally a scoring malus, rather than a benefit.
Spades also involves a bidding or contracting phase of the game, which Hearts does not have.
Furthermore, while Spades can be played cutthroat-style, the most popular variation of the game involves partners, two teams of two. Hearts is always a cutthroat game, and has no teams regardless of the number of players.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many cards do you pass in Hearts?
The traditional rules call for three cards to be passed, though the rules could be adjusted depending on the number of players in a game.
How many points is the Queen of Spades?
The Queen of Spades is worth 13 points.
Does the Queen of Spades break hearts?
Yes, the Queen of Spades does break hearts. After the Q♠ has been played, hearts are broken and can be played normally as a trump card.
What does the Jack of Diamonds mean?
In a common variation of Hearts, the Jack of Diamonds is a special card. When a trick containing the J♦ is taken by a Player, they subtract ten points from their total score at the end of the hand. In Hearts, the lowest score at the end of the game wins, making it an important card to take if possible.
What is a “trick” in Hearts?
Tricks are the basic scoring unit of the game. During each hand, each player places one card on the table. The trick is the total of all cards on the table at the end of a given turn.
In a four-player game, a trick is 4 cards. In a 5-player game, it is 5 cards, etc etc. Points are scored based on the tricks taken, rather than the cards in your hand at the start of the hand.
What is the goal of Hearts?
The goal of hearts, at the end of the game, is to have the lowest score possible. Most variations of Hearts end when one Player reaches 100 points. Once a Player reaches that score threshold, they automatically lose. The remaining players tally together their total scores from each hand, and the lowest score wins.
How to play Hearts online?
We offer a free online Hearts game here at Cool Old Games! It is great for learning the basics.
When playing somewhere else, always be sure to play at a site with a verified security certificate, represented in the left-hand corner of your screen, at the beginning of the address bar in your browser.
There should be a padlock. If there is a line or dash through the padlock symbol, this means the site is potentially unsafe for your browser.