Hearts is a classic trick taking game owings its roots as far back as 1880's America, but likely is originated from similar games found in Europe. A trick-evasion game, the goal of Hearts is to be the player that ends up with the fewest points, avoiding tricks containing penalty cards and trying to force them on to other players. While also commonly called "Hearts", the variation most commonly played today is called "Black Lady", primarily distinguishing itself from the original 1880's game in that the Queen of Spades is also a penalty card. This page describe the rules to a standard four-person game of Hearts under the Black Lady variation, utilizing the old moon scoring scheme. As with all classic card games multiple other variations exist, which we will very briefly touch on a bit later
The objective of Hearts is to be the player with the fewest amount of points at the end of the game, by avoiding having to take tricks containing any of the 13 Hearts, or the Queen of Spades. The game is played over a series of rounds using a standard 52 card deck of playing cards.
At the start of each round, deal thirteen cards to each of the four players. During the beginning of each round players get a chance to ditch three cards they do not like by passing them to their opponents. During the first round you pass the three cards to the opponent on your left. During the second round you pass them to the opponent on your right. During the third round you pass them to the opponent opposite you, and during the fourth round you do not pass your cards at all. This cycle then repeats for any rounds past the fourth one. Passing is not optional, you must pass exactly three cards when instructed.
The person holding the two of clubs goes first, and must lead with said card.The other players then play one card each, going clockwise. If they have a card in the same suit as the first card then they must play that, you must always follow suit if you're able. If you cannot follow suit you may play any card you have. Aces are high. When all four players have played a card, the person who put out the highest ranked card of the lead suit takes the trick, and then leads the next one.
When leading a trick you may not lead with a heart until hearts have been broken, i.e someone had played a heart previously in that round due to being unable to follow suit. Once hearts have been broken any player may lead with hearts for the remainer of the round. Some variations place the same restriction on the Queen of Spades, but in the variation featured on our site players may always lead with the Queen of Spades and she does not break hearts.
Additionally, you may never play a Heart or the Queen of Spades during the very first trick of the round, even if you happen to be unable to follow suit.
At the end of a round each player counts up their penalty cards and adds it to their score. For each heart you took during the round, you gain one point. If you took the Queen of Spades you get thirteen points.
The game ends when one player has earned 100 points total over the course of the game. At that point the person with the lowest total score wins. If multiple people are tied for first place the game continues until there's no longer a tie and there is a definite winner, leading to the sometimes odd result that the person who triggered the endgame can win if they manage to push their previously victory-bound opponents above them in the tie breaking rounds.
Shooting the moon!
Generally it's bad to get penalty cards, but there is one extra twist! If you get ALL the penalty cards (13 hearts + Queen of spades) then you get 0 points and the other 3 players get 26 points each! This is called Shooting the Moon. Trying this can be a really risky move though, since if another player gets just one of the hearts you'll end up with a lot of points.
On this site we follow the "Old Moon" rules, wherein the person who shoots the moon gets 0 points but their opponents get 26. This is in contrast to the "New moon" rules where the person shooting the moon may subtract 26 points from their score while everyone else gets 0 points, and "Mixed moon" rules where players play by the Old moon scoring unless doing so would cause the shooting player to lose by pusing someone else above the 100 point line, in which case they may optionally opt for new moon scoring instead. All of these variations are equally valid and commonly played, and lead to different strategies and considerations.
Here at Cardgames.io we tend to like things simple, and thus we typically only implement one variation of each game - typically the most common, the simplest, or the one we happened to grow up with and thus are biased towards. However, most of our games are classic games that have been around for decades or in some cases centuries and so it is very common that multiple variations exist for each of them. While you can't play these variations here at Cardgames.io, we are going to briefly list a few common variations that you could try out with friends and family.
- Original Hearts: The original 1880 rules are in broad strokes the same as in the Black Lady variation, but there is no exchanging of cards, the Queen of Spades is not a penalty card, shooting the moon is always bad, and while it's common to play until someone crosses a specific point threshold it is also common to simply play for a predetermined number of rounds.
- Black Maria: A common variation in the UK, this variation can be played four-handed albeit it often is played by three players by removing the two of clubs from the deck and dealing 17 cards to each player. While in broad strokes it is played the same as Black lady, many variations will also count the King of clubs as a penalty card worth 10 points, and the Ace of Spades a penalty card worth 3 points, for a grand total of 43 points.
- Spot Hearts: Instead of each Heart card being worth one point, each card is worth its face value. And the Queen of Spades? She holds a staggering 25 points.
- Partnership Hearts: There are multiple variations of Hearts that split players in to teams, but the core idea is similar in most of them. Partners sit opposite each other, and play proceeds as usually. A typical partnership Hearts would have each player count up their scores seperatly, and once anyone reaches the threshold teams combine their final scores, and lowest scoring team wins. To avoid punishing their teammate, some variations may make it so that the partner of a person shooting the moon will not gain any points, or alternatively play by new moon rules.
- Reverse Hearts: For a more typically whist-like game, Reverse hearts flips the objective around. Now it is the person with the highest score once someone crosses the finish line that wins. To make it more interesting players may agree that shooting the moon is also reversed, causing the player who achieves the feat to lose 26 points (getting further from victory) or giving every other player 26 points and themselves 0.
And that's it!
Want to play Hearts and put your newfound skills to the test? Play a round at Cardgames.io.