Hearts Card Game Strategies: Mastering Play with Expert Tips
Hearts is a popular card game where strategy and gaming skills come into play. While luck plays its role, a smart and informed player can gain an advantage over less skilled opponents. Let's focus on various strategies such as which cards to pass to opponents, which ones to keep, how to get rid of cards, minimize risks of taking the Queen of spades, and more.
If the game is new to you, you can find the basic rules of the Hearts card game here.
Passing Cards to Opponents
The key to success is knowing which cards to pass to opponents. The basic strategic rule involves:
- Getting rid of the most dangerous cards; and
- Trying to get rid of as many cards of one suit as possible, especially the hearts and Queen of spades. Even though another player might send you cards of this suit.
Getting rid of one suit means that if someone leads that suit, you can play any card – pass penalty cards like hearts or the Queen of spades (if you have it) or get rid of other suits or dangerous cards (usually high cards).
Never get rid of spades cards lower than the Queen. If you have four or more low spades cards, you don't need to worry, even if you have some of the high spades cards. It's good to focus on getting rid of cards of a different suit.
Most Dangerous Cards
The Queen of spades is worth 13 penalty points. From this perspective, the most dangerous cards in the game are the Queen of spades, King, and Ace of spades – especially if you have few small spades cards. If spades are repeatedly led, there is a danger that you will be stuck with the Queen of spades, or, conversely, that you will take it after being forced to discard the King or Ace of spades.
There is no need to get rid of the Queen of spades under all circumstances. On the contrary, if you have enough low spades cards, it's better to keep it – you'll have it under control and can potentially pass it to someone, especially if they lead a suit you've completely gotten rid of.
If you decide to get rid of the Queen of spades, remember to whom you passed it. If you play after that player, you can discard, for example, the King or Ace of spades without the risk of taking the Queen of spades.
High heart cards are also dangerous if you don't have any low cards (2–6) of that suit. In general, it's advisable to get rid of them (if you're trying to shoot the moon, as mentioned below, it might be suitable to keep high heart cards). On the other hand, it's advisable to keep low to medium heart cards (2–9) because you probably won't pick them up from the pile. It's a defense against someone passing you high heart cards.
Passing the Two of Clubs
An interesting strategy is passing the Two of clubs. Why? The player holding the Two of clubs always starts the first round. In the first round, it's forbidden to play point cards, i.e., hearts or the Queen of spades. Therefore, you can immediately safely get rid of any high clubs card. Note that the probability is about 1 in 45 billion that a player would have only point cards (hearts or hearts with the Queen of spades). So, it's almost impossible that the basic rule of passing the most dangerous cards would be breached.
In addition to deciding which cards to pass to opponents, it's also important to observe and evaluate the cards that opponents pass to us. If we receive all cards of the same suit, the opponent likely wants to get rid of (or has already gotten rid of) that suit. If an opponent passes the Queen of spades (Q♠) to us, it may indicate a shortage of spades cards. If an opponent discards low cards, they might be attempting to shoot the moon.
Single Suit Card Disposal Strategy
Reducing or completely getting rid of cards of a single suit is a fundamental strategy in the game of Hearts. This can be achieved by passing cards to an opponent at the beginning of a round or discarding (playing out) cards into the initial piles (tricks) of the game. It's advantageous to eliminate a specific suit as early as possible. Afterward, you can get rid of other inconvenient cards (such as high spades) or give opponents penalty points by discarding a Heart card or the Queen of spades.
If you eliminate a suit entirely or only have a few cards of the same suit, it means that someone else will have a long suit, indicating many cards of the same suit. Having many cards of the same suit can be double-edged: suitable, for instance, for shooting the moon, but there's a risk of not getting rid of tricks and, therefore, penalty points, because others no longer have that suit.
Keep the Spades Cards
It has already been mentioned that passing spades cards to opponents is not wise. The only exception might be if you only have the top three spades cards: the Queen, King, and Ace. Since it's possible that if you discard the Queen with the King, you might end up with the isolated Ace and, with a high probability, take the Queen from the pile once someone starts clearing spades cards to figure out the location of the Queen.
On the contrary, having a long series of spades, especially low values, usually poses no problem. For instance, if you have 8 or more spades cards, it might mean that someone is completely without spades and could pass penalty hearts to you even if you play a low card.
The advantage and disadvantage of a long series of one suit lie in the fact that if you don't get a trick (don't take a pile), you probably won't get any more, and you'll just discard the entire long series. However, the opposite can happen – you can't get rid of the tricks and end up with a lot of penalty points. This is usually undesirable unless you're actively trying to shoot the moon.
Regarding Heart cards, it's worth repeating what applies to passing cards to opponents – it's good to keep low to medium cards (2–9) so that you don't have to "eat" a pile full of hearts if someone leads with them.
Get Rid of Clubs and Diamonds
If you don't have any dangerous cards – meaning high cards in general, especially spades, hearts – it's wise to quickly get rid of clubs and diamonds. Clubs are generally a good choice because they are always led, and penalty cards cannot be played in the first round, except for the highly unlikely variant mentioned earlier. In the first trick, you can comfortably and safely discard a high club card, and in subsequent tricks, you can try to clear more. Diamonds are riskier in this regard. Under certain circumstances, even in the second trick, hearts may be broken, or you might pick up the Queen of spades if you discard the highest diamond card, and the owner of the Queen of spades has no diamonds.
If you're playing a Hearts variant with the Jack of diamonds, which deducts 10 points from the score, you need to adjust your strategy. Discarding diamond cards means that no one else can acquire it unless you give it to someone. It's unlikely, but you can tactically play it so that you give the Jack of diamonds to the player with the highest point total to keep them away from the (usually) 100-point threshold. For example, because you're currently in second place and wouldn't win if this player exceeded one hundred points.
Common strategic techniques in the opening tricks involve (1) trying to get rid of a suit and (2) if you don't have high spades (Queen, King, Ace), repeatedly leading low spades cards so that one of the opponents is forced to play the Queen of spades and clarifies the situation about who will "pick it up." If you hold the Queen of spades, get rid of high cards of a certain suit first to completely eliminate them. Nothing worse can happen than taking a few hearts.
If you have the Queen of spades, get rid of high cards of a specific suit first to completely eliminate them. Nothing worse can happen than taking a few hearts. If you're the last in line and it's certain that you're taking the pile, take it with the highest card. At least you'll get rid of a potentially dangerous card.
Generally, it's advantageous to take piles – to lead in the opening phase and set the pace of the game. However, as the number of cards decreases, the danger increases that opponents have already gotten rid of some suits. It's suitable to stop leading in time, especially if you have a long suit. After that, you might constantly take piles even with low cards because no one else has that suit.
Ideally, it would be to remember all the cards played. However, for most people, this will likely be impractical, and it remains to focus on the most essential: the Queen of spades, counting hearts, monitoring high cards.
It's good to remember to whom you passed the Q♠. During the game, you will probably notice who "takes it." However, with advanced strategy, if you have the Queen and several spades, you can watch how many and what spade cards have already been played. For example, if you notice that only the king and ace are left in circulation, you can play the spade queen right away and get rid of it before opponents get rid of the spade king and ace.
Counting hearts. There are 13 cards of each color (2–A). It's good to keep track of how many hearts are still in play – at the beginning of the game, subtracting the number of your own heart cards from 13 is sufficient. Notice, if not all heart cards, at least the high ones, and also observe who still has or doesn't have hearts.
At the moment when hearts are broken, it's likely and wise to play a low heart card (2–4). Other players will also try to discard lower cards to avoid collecting the pile. Playing a moderately high card would be dangerous. It's wise only in the second round of hearts. If you are the last and have to collect the pile of hearts, use a high card for that.
For clubs and diamonds, it pays to watch high cards. For example, if you have the club queen and the king and ace have already been discarded, you own the highest club card.
Watching low cards (2–9) is not as essential (of course, the better overview a player has, the better), but its significance increases, especially when trying to shoot the moon. If you have an overview of low cards as well, you can know in advance whether you will succeed in shooting the moon or whether you will anxiously wait to see if someone, for example, takes your five with a six that you didn't notice.
How Not to Collect the Queen of Spades
How to avoid collecting the spade queen? By discarding the king and ace in a color you don't have at the nearest opportunity, or, if you are lucky to play as the last and the queen is not on the table, you can safely collect the pile with the king or ace. It's also safe to have a sufficiently long series of spades because, as mentioned earlier, when handing cards to opponents, you should never get rid of spade cards lower than the queen.
If you don't have the queen, it's advisable to play spade cards as much as possible to "reveal" the queen. Especially playing high cards of another suit after two or three spades have been played is dangerous as you might be passed with the Queen of spades.
How to Get the Jack of Diamonds
The basic strategy is simple and fits into a few sentences. Keep the high diamond cards. If you have the Jack in your hand, don't pass it to opponents and don't play it until all higher diamond cards have disappeared. If someone plays diamonds, play with a lower card. If someone discards the Jack of diamonds, try to take it with a higher diamond card.
Getting the Jack of diamonds with a suit other than diamonds can be difficult because the opponent probably holds it until the last trick. Using a long suit that no one has or high cards can, of course, succeed.
Shooting the Moon
Shooting the Moon in the game of Hearts means taking all penalty cards, i.e., all hearts and the Queen of spades. A player who successfully "shoots the Moon" gets 0 penalty points, while all their opponents get 26 penalty points. Shooting the Moon is, of course, not without danger. If opponents take even one card of hearts, the player is left only with a pile of penalty points.
A variation of shooting the moon is shooting the Sun. This is when a player manages to pick up all the tricks. In such a case, opponents get 52 penalty points (a double of shooting the Moon). It's clear that this will probably only succeed with high cards and/or a long suit.
If you have all high cards, shooting the Moon will be easy. Much more interesting and suspenseful is the game when you have "holes" in your cards. Generally, it's difficult to shoot the Moon without the highest cards of hearts (10–A) and a long suit. If you lack a certain high card of hearts, it may happen that you see it from the opponent only in the last trick and collect 24 penalty points. Sometimes the course of the game can bring you luck when opponents get rid of "hole" cards of hearts.
If you have 7 or more cards of the same suit other than hearts, including an Ace and at least two other high cards, you can try to shoot the Moon. First, get rid of low cards in the suit you have less of. If someone plays your long suit, collect the trick and play so that you collect it again. Intentionally not mentioning the highest card because it might be tactical to confuse or divert opponents from the suspicion that you are trying to shoot the Moon. For example, if you have 10, Q, K, A, and J has already been played, you can play the Ten because no one can beat you. You can try to change the suit and then return to the original long suit, etc. A long suit with high cards means that you won't let anyone take the trick – you'll get it even with low cards.
How to defend against shooting the Moon? Suspicion can be gained during card passing. If you receive low cards, it may be an indication that the opponent is stacking high cards for shooting the Moon. The course of the game will also show, especially repeatedly playing high cards even if collecting hearts. Defense is to keep a high card for the end, especially a card of hearts like Ace of hearts.
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Based on the original Czech article: Strategie pro karetní hru Srdce.