How to Play Hearts
Hearts is a trick-taking card game, typically played with four players, where the goal is to end the game with the fewest points. Within each round are 13 tricks, and points are given to players who take tricks containing heart cards (1 point each) and tricks containing the queen of spades (13 points). You play rounds until someone reaches 100 points, and the winner is the player with the lowest score.
On Solitaired, you can play unlimited free games of Hearts.
End the game with the lowest score. To do this, avoid taking tricks with penalty cards unless you are trying to shoot the moon.
Trick-taking games, like Hearts, usually have unique components, and we break down the important aspects of this game in the following list:
- Rounds: You play hearts in rounds, and in each round, all four players are dealt the entire deck of cards. So each player begins each round with 13 cards. You play as many rounds as needed until one player reaches 100.
- Passing: You get to pass three cards to another player at the beginning of every three out of four rounds. The person you pass to is determined by what round you’re playing—to the person on your left in the first round, to the person across from you in the second round, and to the person to your right in the third round. You keep the cards dealt to you in the fourth round. This pattern repeats with subsequent rounds.
- Leading: When each round begins, the player with the two of clubs leads that card to begin the first trick of the round. In subsequent tricks, the player who leads, or plays the first card of a trick, is the one who won the previous trick. So if Player 2 led the two of clubs for the first trick and Player 4 won the trick by playing king of clubs, Player 4 leads—plays the first card—for the next trick.
- Tricks: Within each round, each person plays one card per trick. Since each player has 13 cards, each round has 13 tricks. A player wins the trick by having the highest ranking card of the suit that led or by playing a heart. So if someone leads a four of diamonds, that player will win the trick unless someone plays a higher ranking diamond (five and above).
- Points: Players keep a running score of their penalty points—points they get when winning tricks that contain hearts or the queen of spades. Hearts are worth 1 point each, and the queen of spades is worth 13 points. Diamonds and clubs are worth nothing. After each round, you add your points to your score, and once someone reaches 100, the person with the lowest score wins.
- Shoot the moon: Although hearts and the queen of spades result in penalty points, if one player takes all of the heart cards and the queen of spades in one round, they are said to “shoot the moon.” So instead of that player being penalized with 26 points, all of the other players get 26 points added to their total scores.
Understanding how to play Hearts means knowing and abiding by the rules, which are pretty simple, including:
- You must pass cards to begin most rounds. You must pass three cards to another player except every fourth round. Pass to your left for the first round, across from you for the second round, and to your right for the third round. Keep all the cards dealt to you for the fourth round, and then repeat the pattern of passing with subsequent rounds.
- You must follow suit. Whatever suit is first led in a trick, you must play a card that matches that suit if you have one. Otherwise, you can “slough off,” which means you play a card from another suit.
- The highest card of the suit that led wins the trick. Once all players have played a card, whoever has the highest ranking card for the lead suit takes the trick. If the five of spades is led, and the next three players play the two, eight, and king of spades, whoever played the king of spades wins the trick. Off-suit cards that are played can’t win the trick.
- You cannot play point cards in the first trick. The two of clubs leads the first trick of each round, and in that trick, no one can play a heart or the queen of spades. While you have to follow suit and play a club if you have it, if you don’t have one, you can play a diamond or any other spade except the queen.
- You cannot play a heart until hearts are “broken.” If a player doesn’t have the same suit that led and it’s not the first trick, they can play a heart, which means hearts are broken and can now be played. Although the high-point card, the queen of spades, can be played during any trick except the first one, hearts cannot be played until they are “broken.”
Strategies to Win Hearts
While the rules are simple, Hearts strategy is not. Use these strategies to increase your chances of winning:
- Understand when to pass aces. Each hand you’re dealt is different, so consider your total hand when deciding which cards to pass each round. If you want to control the lead, you might consider keeping the aces for clubs and diamonds, but you often want to pass the ace of spades so you don’t get stuck taking in the queen. When it comes to the ace of hearts, it can be nice to have, especially if you have lower-ranking hearts to play under in other tricks, so that you can take a trick if someone tries to shoot the moon.
- Pass the two of clubs. Whether you want to take the lead in the first trick or not, pass the two of clubs. Because no cards worth penalty points can be played in the first trick, the first trick is your chance to dump a high-ranking card without penalty. You can’t do that if you’re forced to lead with the two of clubs.
- Plan ahead before passing cards. As with any game, understanding what moves you can make and ensuring you have options are invaluable to gameplay. Before passing, consider whether you need to control the lead to pull out penalty cards or whether you have enough lower-ranking cards to fly under the radar. For example, if you have a few spades ranking lower than the queen, you might want to keep an ace of clubs to take the lead in the first trick and lead spades next to try and flush out the queen. Knowing your possible options helps inform what you pass to other players.
- Get rid of one suit. If you rid yourself of a suit, either by passing the cards away or focusing on playing them from your hand, you have a better chance of getting rid of high-point cards, like the queen of spades. If you only have three diamonds, but you have the queen of spades, consider passing all the diamonds. Chances are you’ll have an opportunity to play the queen when everyone else is playing diamonds, even if you’re passed a diamond or two.
- Count the cards. When you get down to the last few tricks, you may be nervous about winning a trick with a high-ranking card, or you may end up winning a trick with penalty points because you lead a lower-ranking card but no one else has that suit. Each suit contains 13 cards. So if, for example, you notice that 10 clubs have been played but you have three clubs left in your hand, no matter how low those cards rank, you’ll win the trick. So knowing how many cards of each suit have been played can help.
- Remember the higher-ranking cards that were played. Similar to the reasons why you should count cards, remembering the higher-ranking cards that were played can help you know what to lead or not. Knowing if cards that rank higher than yours have been played can be the difference between losing a trick or taking one with the high-point queen of spades included.
- Keep low hearts. Hearts give penalty points, but hearts can’t be played until they are broken. So if you have low hearts, keep them so that you can play under higher hearts that are led.
- Watch for opponents trying to shoot the moon. The only worse thing than ending up with a ton of penalty points is getting 26 points because someone else took all the penalty cards. If you notice someone is leading with a lot of high cards and controlling the lead, they are likely trying to shoot the moon. So look for ways to take a trick, even if it means scoring penalty points—a few penalty points is better than 26!
Other Games You’ll Enjoy
If you like trick-taking games, you can also try your hand at Euchre and Spades. If you enjoy multiplayer games, try your hand at Mahjong. Or play a solo game like Canfield Solitaire or Eight Off where you must move cards from the tableau into foundation piles.