play tricks


This article is about the card game in general. For information about the Microsoft version of the game, see Hearts (Windows).

Hearts is an "evasion-type" trick-taking playing card game for four players, although variations can accommodate 3-6 players. The game is also known as Black Lady, Chase the Lady, Crubs, Black Maria, and Black Bitch, though any of these may refer to the similar but differently-scored game Black Lady. A standard deck of 52 playing cards is used. The objective of the game is to have the fewest points at the completion of the game. Tricks containing any heart and the queen of spades give points to the winner of the trick. There are no trumps. The game is regarded as a member of the Whist family of trick-taking games (which also includes Bridge and Spades), but the game is unique among Whist variants in that it is an evasion-type game.

The game has become popular in live play among grade school students in the United States, and is enjoying more widespread popularity through Internet gaming sites and due to a Microsoft version of the game packaged with its popular Windows XP and Windows Vista operating systems (see Hearts (Windows) for more information on the software game).


The game of Hearts as currently known originated with a family of related games called Reverse, which became popular around 1750 in Spain. In this game, a penalty point was awarded for each trick won, plus additional points for capturing the Jack of Hearts or the Queen of Hearts. A similar game called Four Jacks centered around avoiding any trick containing a Jack, which were worth one penalty point, and the Jack of Spades worth two.

Over time, additional penalty cards were added to Reverse, and around 1850, the game gave way to a simple variant of Hearts, where each Heart was worth 1 point. The Queen of Spades was introduced in a variant called Black Maria which then became known as the standard Hearts game, and soon thereafter, the idea of "shooting the moon" was introduced to the game to add depth to the gameplay. In the 1920s, the Jack of Diamonds variation (ten positive points) was introduced, and some time later the scoring was reversed so that penalty points were expressed as positive instead of negative. Passing cards, breaking Hearts, and leading the 2 of Clubs are recently-standardized additions.



Thirteen cards are dealt singly in turn to each of the four players.

  • When there are only three players, the 2 or 2 is removed from the deck before play commences, and each player receives 17 cards. Alternately, two Jokers can be added, and count as an off-suit, non-Heart card. Each player then receives 18 cards.
  • When there are five players, the 2 and the 2 are both removed, and each player receives 10 cards. Alternately, three Jokers (usually the two from one deck plus one from a similar deck) can be added, and each player receives 11.


Before the first round commences, each player chooses three cards from their initial thirteen and passes them face down to the player on their right. The three cards are picked up and absorbed into the neighbour's hand. Players may not look at the cards they are to receive before passing their own cards.

There are many variations on the passing rules:

  • Cards may be passed to the left rather than to the right.
  • On alternate deals the cards are passed to the left and then the right.
  • On the first deal cards are passed to the left, on the second deal they are passed to the right, on the third deal they are passed to the player sitting opposite, this sequence being repeated for every three deals.
  • On the first deal cards are passed to the left, on the second deal they are passed to the right, on the third deal they are passed to the player sitting opposite, on the fourth deal no cards are passed, this sequence being repeated for every four deals. (This is the sequence used by the Windows version of the game for PCs).
  • In the basic game of Hearts, no cards are passed before play commences.

Other variations on the passing rules include:

  • Passing the Ace, King and/or Queen of Spades may be allowed or prohibited.
  • When there are more than four players, only two cards are passed.

The play

The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick and the other players play a card in turn clockwise. Players must follow suit when they are able to, but may play a card from any other suit, including a penalty Heart or the Q♠, when they cannot. The player who plays the highest card of the led suit takes the trick, and any penalty cards it contains, and leads for the next trick.

Common variants include:

  • The player holding the 2 must lead it to begin the first trick. When playing with three or five players and the 2♣ has been removed, play starts with the 3
  • No penalty card (a Heart or the Queen of Spades) may be played on the first trick unless the player cannot play anything else without reneging. The odds of being dealt a hand composed entirely of penalty cards is roughly 1 in 45 billion. However, the Hooligan Hearts variation which makes the 7 a penalty card, as well as variants in which the opening lead doesn't have to be a Club, present a far more likely situation in which a player might have only a penalty card in the opening trick's suit.
  • Hearts may not be led until they have been "broken" (discarded on the lead of another suit), unless the player who must lead has nothing but Hearts remaining in his hand.


Each heart won in a trick scores 1 penalty point against the player winning the trick, and the player winning a trick containing the queen of spades scores 13 penalty points. Therefore, there are 26 penalty points in each deal. The game ends either when one player reaches 100 points or after a predetermined number of deals or time has passed. In either case, the winning player is the one with the fewest penalty points.

Simplified scoring with chips is possible: all players contribute one chip to a central pool of chips and the pool is divided equally between those players taking no penalty cards on a deal; if all players take penalty cards, the pool remains on the table and is added to the next pool; once one player has won all available chips, or once another player has run out, the game ends.

There are many scoring variants including:

  • The 10 or J is a "bonus" card, subtracting 10 penalty points from the player who captures it.
  • The 7 is another penalty card, worth 7 points, in a version called Hooligan Hearts.
  • A player reaching exactly 50 or 100 points subtracts 50 points from his score.
  • Different points are allocated to each penalty card.
  • The A can also be a penalty card, and sometimes also the K and 10.
  • Higher penalties for the high hearts (e.g. A=5, K=4, Q=3, J=2).
  • A player who takes no tricks in a deal subtracts 5 points from his score.

Shooting the moon

Shooting the moon is a very common scoring variant. If one player takes all the penalty cards on one deal, that player subtracts the total number of penalty points available (normally 26) from their previous total score. Alternatively, 26 penalty points can be added to each of the other three players' scores. Attempting to shoot the moon is often a risky strategy, as failure to capture even one of the penalty cards will result in the remaining penalty points (as many as 25) being added to one's score.


Strategy varies from hand to hand, according to the cards one is dealt. Because the Q is worth 13 points, strategy generally revolves around who will win this card.

Although fundamentally a game between individuals, with each player attempting to ensure that the others get the penalty cards, teamwork is sometimes seen. As there is typically one leader and all the other players trailing, the most advanced strategy appears when the trailing players team up to give the leader points. Playing the Q and other penalty cards only when the player with the lowest score can take them, passing favorable cards to trailing players, and setting up the leader all require teamwork and unselfish play. Teamwork is especially important when one player is (or appears to be) trying to shoot the moon.


Which cards to pass from one's hand is the first decision that must be made. It is an opportunity to rid oneself of cards that may become dangerous during the play. It is nearly always a mistake to pass low spades (jack or under). If one holds, or is passed, the Q it is important that it is well protected by other cards in the suit. A common strategy is to attempt to void oneself in clubs or diamonds, as this will give the player an opportunity to discard a penalty card, or a card that presents a danger, when that suit is led during the play. However, such a strategy can often be ruined if one receives high cards in the same suit..

It is rare to pass low hearts, as the aim should be to discard these on other players during the play (very high hearts may be passed as each stands a chance of taking 4 points in a trick).

One can also read passes from other players as unintended signals. A player passing ace, king or queen of spades is likely to be short of this suit. A player passing low cards may be attempting to shoot the moon.


The simplest strategy is not to win any tricks, as this guarantees that one cannot take any penalty points. However, it is rare to be able to play an entire hand without taking any tricks at all, and when it is likely that some tricks will have to be taken, it is important to choose which tricks to win. This often means taking tricks early in the hand, when it is likely that all other players can follow suit and thus cannot discard penalty cards. This is especially true when one is the last to play to a trick, as it is then possible to see that a trick is penalty-free before capturing it. Players who take a trick then usually lead a card that is likely to lose the next trick, thus losing the lead.

The general progression of play for a hand is normally to first attempt to empty one's hand of a particular suit, known as "voiding" that suit, and then use tricks in which that suit is led to play high-value off-suit cards, known as "sloughing". During this time, players also usually attempt to force the player holding the Queen of Spades to play it by playing a large number of Spade tricks. This is called "hunting the bitch" or "smoking it out". The logic is that the player with the Queen, if they have few other Spades, will be forced to follow suit with the Queen, and is likely to take that trick and its points, known as "eating it" or "taking it to the grave". To avoid this, players generally hoard Spades when passing in case they are dealt or passed the Queen. If the player with the Queen has enough other Spades, he/she can avoid having to eat it, and can later slough it off onto another player, when this is not the case the best strategy is an aggressive approach to playing the other suits to open them up for "sloughing".

As the winning of tricks is to be avoided, when a player must follow suit it is usually best to play the highest-value card that will not win the trick. For instance, if the Jack of Spades is the leading card in the trick and a player wishes to lose the trick, laying down the Ten, if available, is the best play. This allows the player to save lower-value cards in case they must try to lose a later trick in which they must follow suit. If the player cannot help but take the trick, this tactic changes; they should then lay down the highest-value card of that suit in order to get rid of it. This is especially true when playing last to a trick. The only exception is in Spade tricks when the Queen has not yet been played; players should avoid playing the King and Ace at all costs unless they can be sure the Queen cannot be played on the trick, which is generally one of four cases: when playing last to the trick, when holding the Q, when playing after the player known to hold the Q, or when all players yet to play have voided Spades.

The decision to "break Hearts" by playing the first Heart should be contemplated carefully. The optimum time to do so varies by player and hand. Generally, the earlier Hearts is broken, the more difficult it is for all players to avoid taking penalty points, because players have less opportunity to void suits and slough high-value cards. However, a player who can void and slough early in the game due to a favorable deal might choose to break Hearts early as they are unlikely to be forced to take points. A player who holds the Ace, King or Queen of Hearts may also choose to break Hearts early in order to slough that card quickly. Conversely, players who do not hold a low Heart (2, 3 or 4) should avoid breaking Hearts for as long as possible unless they must slough a high Heart. Once Hearts are broken, the trick that frequently follows it involves leading a low Heart, and the player whose lowest Heart is a 5 or greater has a substantial risk of taking that trick (and four points).

Sometimes it is preferable to take a trick containing one or two Hearts, rather than risk winning the Q in a later trick, especially as capturing a heart or two prevents other players from shooting the moon. Such a case might be when a player holds the Ace of Spades and is last to play on a Spade trick containing a Heart but not the Queen of Spades. Playing the Ace captures a point, but the player now cannot be forced to play the Ace over the Queen.

It is a useful skill to be able to count how many cards remain in each suit, and to remember which players are void in which suit. This knowledge can influence a player's decision to play one card over the other, to their advantage. If a player knows that most or all other players are void in a suit, he or she will avoid leading a card in that suit and will instead try to slough that card.


Playing lead to a trick is risky, especially late in the hand when suits have been voided and Hearts are played freely. The risk is that the card led will take the trick because other players can undercut or play off-suit, which could be a penalty card. It is usually best to lead a card that must be topped by at least one other player (meaning at least one player is not void in that suit and doesn't have any cards that will undercut it). Keeping track of cards played becomes of foremost importance when making such a play.

A low or middling spade (Jack or below) is often the safest lead, because it is not possible to win the Q with such a lead. It is possible however to take points and/or keep the lead.

The strategy for the player holding the Q is usually different. Leading a low or middling spade can lead to the Queen becoming unprotected; in addition it might give the holder of the Ace or King the opportunity to get rid of that card, denying the holder of the Queen an opportunity to drop the Queen under one of those cards later in the hand. Instead, the holder of Q will often want to void herself in one of the other three suits in order to have an opportunity to discard Q on a subsequent lead. Unlike the other players, the holder of the Q can lead any card, even high cards in clubs and diamonds, safe in the knowledge that the Black Lady cannot be discarded on it.

Besides taking into account the cards one might receive when leading, one must take into account the player one seat counter-clockwise from the leader, who will play last in the trick. The player to play last has the most options, and therefore guessing their intentions, and thus their play, is advantageous to each player. An example might be that halfway through a hand, with Hearts broken, a player currently second-place in points is contemplating their lead. The best choice for them individually, not knowing anything about any other hand, is a low Diamond to lose the lead. However, this player knows that the person to their right, who is in first place with the fewest points, has voided Diamonds. That player will likely play a Heart making it a penalty trick, which will likely be taken by one of the other players who already have high scores, hastening the end of the game. The lead player also knows the player to his right still has a high Club because it was passed from the leading player to his right, and it hasn't been played yet. The player has a middle Club they can lead; the other players have voided Clubs, and would thus likely play Hearts. Knowing that the last player must follow suit and is likely to have to play the high Club to take a trick with points, leading the middle Club is the better play than the low Diamond.

"Team" play

The previous point illustrates a point that is critical to Hearts game strategy; players other than the leader should seek to give points to the person with the fewest points, avoid giving points to the person with the most, and of course avoid getting points themselves. For the leader, this is almost exactly the opposite; the leader seeks to avoid points, and to give points to the second-place player (to widen the lead) and to the person in last place (to hasten the game's end). The common purpose of everyone except the leader creates an "all against one" mentality of the leader versus everyone else. These allegiances of course change as first place moves between players.

This competition also tends to create roles for each player according to their points ranking. The leader, of course, is the target; everyone else attempts to play tricks that result in the leader taking points, while the leader attempts to defend against this and give points to others. The second-place person is the "challenger"; the leader seeks to give him points while the third and fourth-place people are either neutral to him or actively help him avoid points. The third-place player is the "sacrificial lamb"; when points must be taken, for instance to prevent another player shooting the moon, they are the player in the best strategic position to do so. The player in last place is the VIP; the more points that player takes, the sooner the game ends, thus everyone but the leader avoids giving the last-place player points.

All ranking is disregarded when someone attempts to shoot the moon. All other players then attempt to stop him by ensuring at least one point goes to another player. As a player successfully shooting the moon gives 26 points to all other players, all players have a vested interest in taking at least a few. The only exception to this is when the leading player has a lead greater then 26 points over the person attempting to shoot the moon; in such a case the player would still be in the lead and the successful moon shot would hasten the game's end.


As with most games of skill, reading a player's tendencies and cues are keys to success. With Hearts, one must also be concerned with vengeance, as well as lack of knowledge of the game. Players who take risks that result in a decrease in the probability for others to win is deemed as selfish (in a game that thrives on teamwork). Some players might retaliate against this player by distributing point cards to that player. A good rapport with the other players is always a plus, as it's nearly impossible for one player to beat three good players teamed up against the one.


  • Hearts (Windows) - the PC version of the game
  • Complex hearts - scoring uses complex numbers, while trying to keep the absolute value of your score less than 100.
  • Double Deck Cancellation Hearts – good for six or more players.
  • Chinese Hearts (拱猪) (Pinyin - gŏng zhū, literally "chase the pig") – scoring works slightly differently as the Q and the hearts are worth different amounts of penalty points. In addition, the 10 and J both have functions. Shooting the moon now takes into consideration these two additional cards.
  • Booster Nines – if a nine is played then an extra round in the suit is played.
  • Joker Hearts – adding the joker cards, which can be played any time and count for zero points.
  • Shooting the Sun – taking all the tricks, not just all the points, gives all other players 52 points.
  • Jack of Diamonds — the J becomes a point card. Unlike the normal practice of having the Q♠ add 13 points to one's score, the J subtracts 10. In these games, a player attempting to 'shoot the moon' must capture the J as well in order to do so. Another variant of this game is to have the 10 as the point card.
  • In Hooligan Hearts, the 7 is another penalty card, worth 7 points.
  • Hearts — the Xbox version of the game including single player games & multi-player online games.

Royal Hearts

A game produced by Parker Brothers (owned by Hasbro) by the name of Royal Hearts is a commercialization of the basic Hearts game. The deck can be used to play the classic Hearts game (and those rules are included), but was designed to center around new powers of the four Queens when scoring:

  • The Queen of Spades ("Most Evil") is worth 26 points instead of 13.
  • The Queen of Hearts ("Broken Hearted") doubles the point value of all Hearts captured by the player who takes it.
  • The Queen of Diamonds ("Best Friend") subtracts 10 points from the score of the player taking it. However, this cannot result in a negative score.
  • The Queen of Clubs ("Most Kind"), when captured by a player who has also taken the Queen of Spades, negates the Q's point value.

There are thus 52 total points per hand that can be taken (however that is a moon shot; the highest score any one player can take on a hand is 50), minus the value of the Q. The actual number of points awarded depends on who captures each Queen and how many other Hearts and/or previously-awarded points the player has. Shooting the moon is also different; it is defined as capturing all penalty cards as before, but the bonus to the player who shoots the moon, or the penalty to all others, is based on the total point count of that player, so capturing one or both of the two beneficial Queens actually reduces the benefit to the player; capturing the Q (-10) makes the benefit 42 points, the Q (-26 with Q) reduces it to 26, and both of these combined make the reward only 16 points. This gives players attempting to prevent a moon shot other options; the players could instead force him to take all four Queens in addition to all Hearts which drastically mitigates the value of a moon shot.

The game can easily be played this way with a standard deck. However, as Royal Hearts introduced these new effects in the first place, the variant is not commonly seen when playing with a standard deck. The main advantage to the commercial Royal Hearts deck is that the effects of each card are on their faces; with this new variant easily translating to a standard deck (at half the price), the Hasbro Royal Hearts game did not sell well and was discontinued as of the 2008 Hasbro catalog.


Cited text

  • Kansil, Joli Quentin (ed.); Braunlich, Tom (2004). Bicycle Official Rules of Card Games. 90th, Markham, Ontario: The United States Playing Card Company.

Search another word or see play trickson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature