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What is the Game of Hearts?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hearts is a strategic card game that involves taking tricks. Players need to plan a strategy for themselves as well as interpret other players moves and remember the cards that have been played. Ace is high in the game of Hearts. The goal of the game is to have the lowest number of points at the end. The game ends when one or more players reach 100 points. Hearts is best when played by four players, and the instructions that follow are for that number. There are many variations that you can find, which include different numbers of players as well as other playing and scoring rules.

How to Set Up the Card Game Hearts
A single deck of card, with jokers removed, is shuffled and dealt to the players, one at a time in a facedown stack, so that each has 13 cards. At this point, players make a preliminary decision about one of two strategies. Players may choose to try to avoid winning any of the 13 hearts as well as the Queen of spades, who is called the Black Lady, or they may try to win all of the 13 hearts and the Queen of spades, which is known as Shooting the Moon.

The First Pass
Having made this preliminary decision, each player chooses any three cards from his or her hand and all simultaneously pass their cards facedown to the player to their left. Only after all cards are passed may players examine their new cards. At this point, the new information will help solidify their strategy. The passing rule is first hand passes left, second right, third across, and then the sequence starts over.

Beginning Play
The first player is the one who holds the 2 of clubs after the pass. Each player must follow suit if possible, and if not, any other card, with the caveat that on the first trick, the Queen of spades and all hearts may not be played. There is no trump suit, so the highest card of the suit that was led always wins the trick. The player that won the hand collects the trick, places it in front of him- or herself, and leads the next trick.

Scoring Scoring of the game of hearts is based only on hearts and the Queen of spades, but it is partially dependent on whether any player succeeded in Shooting the Moon, which is rare. If no one Shoots the Moon, then each heart counts one point, while the Queen of spades gives a player 13 points. If a player Shoots the Moon, then several things may happen:

  • Some rules award that player 0 points, while others deduct 26 points from that player’s score.
  • Alternatively, some rules allow a player who Shoots the Moon to have a score of 0 or choose instead to increase all other player’s scores by 26.
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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By Scrbblchick — On Jan 28, 2014

I have to quibble with the scoring listed here. I've played many rounds of Hearts, with people and on the computer, and the Black Widow (Queen of Spades) has always been worth 20 points. I've never played it where it was worth 13 points. While 13 is appropriately unlucky, I suspect 20 is easier to add.

I like Hearts, but it does take a certain mindset to win. One has to think of not getting "books" or hands, as opposed to wanting to get as many as possible, as in the game of Spades. Because of this, Hearts is a good strategy game and involves thinking a step or two ahead on every hand.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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