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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.

Scoring

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.

Variations

Kitty

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.

Passing

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.

Scoring

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 spadeQ, 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.

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