How to Pass Your Cards in a Hearts Game
In a game of Hearts, after you pick up and sort your cards, you get to pass three of your cards to another opponent. The passing stage of a Hearts game gives you a chance to unload some cards that you think may score points or to get rid of a particular suit, thereby strengthening your chances of dumping high-scoring cards on someone else, or of discarding danger cards in another suit at the appropriate moment.
Getting rid of your bad cards involves a cycle of four passes:
1st hand: You pass three cards to the opponent on your left.
2nd hand: You pass three cards to the opponent on your right.
3rd hand: You pass three cards to the opponent across the table.
4th hand: You retain your hand without a pass.
To pass your cards properly, select your three cards, put them face-down in front of you, and then pass those cards before looking at the cards that you’re about to pick up.
When passing on cards, think carefully about the nature of your hand before making your move. You may assume that because hearts and the Queen of Spades score the points (and, by extension, the King an Ace of Spades, because they’re likely candidates to capture the Queen), these cards are the hot potatoes that you want to pass on immediately; but this assumption isn’t necessarily so.
On some occasions you want to pass your hearts and your top spades, of course; for example, if you’re short in either suit, you want to unload the high spades (Ace, King, or Queen) and your top hearts. However, if you have plenty of spades — say, at least five, or four spades other than the queen — you can safely hold on to your high spades. If you do pass on the Queen of Spades, remember to whom you passed it. Doing so sometimes allows you to unload the ace or king of spades safely when a spade is lead.
Similarly, if you have a series of low hearts, you don’t need to pass any of them on. Instead, throw away all the cards in a side-suit so that you can play whatever you like when another player leads the suit — however unpleasant it may be for your opponents. (You call the act of dumping an unwelcome present on an opponent painting a trick.)
By the third or fourth time diamonds or clubs are led, you’re just as likely to collect the Queen of Spades or a bunch of hearts by winning a trick as you are from leading hearts or spades. A side-suit containing the J, 10, 9, 8, 7 is a strong candidate to fetch the Queen of Spades, whereas a suit such as A, Q, 10, 9, 6, 4, 2 presents virtually no danger at all. Why? The answer is the control of those nice low cards. You should do your best to ensure that after the pass you do not saddle yourself with a long minor suit holding, unless you have small cards to protect yourself from being dumped on. The high cards in the minor suits don’t cause problems as much as the lack of low cards in a long suit. Any suit (other than spades) in which you can’t duck a trick leaves you exposed to collecting the Queen of Spades at a critical moment.
Even the 3 may be a danger card; in a five-card suit such as K, J, 9, 6, 3, don’t be surprised to discover that on the third round of the suit someone leads the 2, and you get showered with hearts from the other two players.
For an example, look at the hand in this figure. The spades are dangerous, but the hearts are useful, because you have so many of them. You should get rid of the Ace and Queen of Spades, and the Jack of Clubs in the pass.
Alternatively, check out the hand in the following figure. The spades look safe enough, but you may want to get rid of all your hearts. Or you may keep the hearts and throw the Ace and Queen of Diamonds, and 10 of Clubs to create suits in which you have no or few cards.
Focus on what cards you get from your opponent. Doing so may help you guess what sort of hand she has by virtue of what she let go — and thus what her intentions are for the hand. You can usually infer what her possible danger suits are, too.