Hearts is a trick-taking card in which the player’s goal is to collect as few points as possible. Any card with a Hearts suit is worth one point and the Queen of Spades is worth a whopping 13 points. In a four-player game, each player is dealt 13 cards and each player puts down one card at a time in clockwise fashion for each trick. Every player within that trick has to follow the suit of the first player or they may play a card from another suit if they have no more remaining of that suit. (e.g. If Player 1 starts with Diamonds and Player 2 has no Diamonds, Player 3 may play any card he or she wishes). I won’t go into the basics of Hearts since this is an advanced strategies segment. However, if you want to familiarize yourself with the rules, look at this Wikipedia article. Also, you can play online Hearts with any Windows PC in the Games Folder from the Start Menu.
Here just some tips before I get into more juicy stuff:
1. Know your players. With any card game, knowing the person you’re playing against can be the difference between winning and losing. Maybe you know your friend across from you likes Shooting the Moon (taking all the points) or maybe you know the person to the left you likes to have the Queen of Spades. Keep track of tendencies and strategies of the people around you from the current and past games. Make sure you don’t have a pattern either. Change the way you approach some games; maybe sometimes focus on giving people points than just avoiding them.
2. Watch your players. Most people think Hearts strategy starts with passing. It actually starts right before that. When you get your cards, pick them up but don’t even bother looking at them. Look at other player’s faces and cards before you even think about your own. Most people don’t like getting the Queen of Spades, so they might give off a facial twitch and then pass off the card. Also watch how people organize their cards. Someone may be moving a lot of cards to their right side, meaning they may have a lot of that suit. Then during the game, see what suit they pull out from that side. Each twitch or card placement could mean more information for you and then you could trap them within that suit and have a better chance of giving them more points. That being said, don’t organize your cards in the same way every time, change up the order of your suits and try not to react to your cards.
3. Low Spades rock. The Two of Spades to the Jack of Spades are lifelines if the Queen of Spades has not been played yet. If you have a plethora of low Spades (4-5 of them) use the higher ones in that set first and try to force the player with the Queen to get caught with it. If someone uses the King of Spades or the Ace of Spades and they are not the last person in that trick, then they probably have the Queen of Spades as well since they would not want leave themselves vulnerable to 13 points. If you’re trying to flush the Queen out, gain control of the tricks early and burn your Spades. If you are given the Queen on a pass and you have low Spades, those low Spades are now lifelines if someone if trying to flush the Queen out of you. If you have the Queen of Spades, gain control of the tricks (even take some Hearts if need be), and finish out the suit that has the least amount of cards in your hand ASAP. Then you’ll be able to use the Queen out of turn. This strategy also applies if you don’t want to be forced using the King or Ace of Spades. In addition, if you’re not dealt the Queen, King of Ace of Spades, chances are it’ll be passed to you, making those low Spades really important to your survival.
4. The cards passed to you before the game starts are hints. If you get three high cards (Aces, High Hearts, the Queen of Spades), then that person is probably just trying to unload some junk. If you get at least one high card and the other cards are from the same suit but a low number, then that person is probably trying to eliminate an entire suit from their hand. Watch their reaction when they get their cards in this situation, because if they traded you low Diamonds and get more Diamonds, they’ll most likely be pissed or give off some sign of stress. If you get low Spades and/or other low cards, then watch out, that person may try to shoot the moon. Take a Heart when available to prevent this from happening.
5. Suited cards in order in your hand are of equal value. If you have the Ten, Jack, Queen and King of Hearts, they are all worth the same to you in terms of power. The Ace will trump all of those, but will only happen once, if that. That means at some point, you will have the three highest Heart cards in the game. Trade at least one of these if possible, since it may be difficult to get rid of all of these. Remember that the distance between cards is more important than the cards themselves. A Ten of Hearts doesn’t look bad, but it is really bad in this situation.
6. Be wary of playing low Spades in an attempt to flush out the Queen with the leader to your right. You always want to try and give the leader the Queen of Spades to knock him or her out of first place. However, when the leader is sitting to the right of you and you lead with the low Spade, the leader to your right might get a free pass to unload the King or Ace of Spades since everyone else will probably play low Spades to avoid getting the Queen themselves. Don’t help the leader.
Now let’s look at some tricky situations and analyze the choices.
Let’s say you are dealt the hand pictured below and it is the first hand of the game. Passing is to the left and the player to your right quickly put one card on the table as soon as she picked up her cards. What should you pass to the left?
The card that was quickly put down to the right of you is coming to your hand, and judging by how fast the decision was made, you’re probably going to get the Queen, King or Ace of Spades. This is really bad because you only have one low Spade. This is definitely a tough hand but with a little luck you can save yourself.
I would suggest passing the Jack and King of Diamonds, along with the Three of Clubs. In the way I play Hearts, the Two of Clubs starts the tricks so, having the Ace of Clubs will guarantee you go first on the second trick. And remember, you can’t give out point cards in the first trick, so you’re definitely safe. Hopefully you will not be given any Clubs, cause then starting on the second trick, you won’t have any Clubs, giving you an out for that possible high Spade. Trading the high Diamonds will also probably protect you in the second trick, assuming you lead with a low Diamond. Since you have so many Diamonds, the person with the Queen (if it isn’t you) may not have Diamonds. Passing the high Diamonds may cause the player to your left to use it in the second round, as the Queen doesn’t usually come out in the second round. The player to your left could get caught right there in the second trick.
If you are given Clubs on the pass, burn one of those out on the second round. Just clear a suit as fast as possible. On a hand like this, you might get caught with the Queen of Spades and take 13 points. Going for the quick kill is probably you’re best bet though and clearing the Clubs is the fastest way to do it. You could trade the Ace of Clubs on the pass but I would not suggest that since you want to gain control at the beginning and protect your Spades. And hey, if you aren’t given any high Spades (that quick card put down might have been the Ace of Hearts), then this hand is a breeze. In that case get rid of your Clubs and Spades and burn your High Diamonds out of suit.
Let’s look at one more situation. This time it is the second trick of the game, and you were passed the King and Ace of Hearts along with the Queen of Spades from the player on your left. On the first trick everyone used Clubs (including you). It’s your turn. What should you play in this situation?
Having the Queen is dangerous, so your first instinct may be to gain control and change the suit. However, I would roll the dice on this one and play the Four of Spades. You already got rid of Clubs, and you have two other low Spades to cover your Queen. In addition, only the player to your right knows you have the Queen of Spades; the player across from you (who would win this trick under my strategy) has no idea that you have the Queen. Let the player across from you have the trick and pray that they play Clubs. If they don’t, just wait patiently. You have two more Spades to cover you. Besides, if two more rounds of low Spades are played, the only Spades left will be high ones. I think you’re safe by playing the Four of Spades. Not trying to take control of the suit may also cause the player across from you to think you have nothing to worry about with Spades, maybe causing them to change suit.
There are a ton of situations of Hearts, but hopefully my tips will help you out a little bit. I consider myself a decent Hearts player, but remember that I’m not an expert. You may disagree with my strategies, and if you do, comment on this post and tell me why. I want to improve my game as well!