How to Score in a Game of Hearts

When playing Hearts, at the end of the hand, each player collects all the cards in the taken tricks, and the arithmetic begins. Unlike other card games, Hearts doesn’t tax your math skills unduly. Each player gets 1 point per heart, for a total of 13 penalty points possible in each hand.

The Queen of Spades costs you 13 points on her own. Not surprisingly, therefore, you need to gear your strategy of both passing and playing to avoid taking this card. You may want to pass the Ace and King of Spades, and also the Queen of Spades, before play begins if you have only a few spades. Conversely, if you have length in spades (particularly with some of the low cards), spades don’t propose a danger to you.

You play to 100 points. At that point, you can play that whoever has the fewest points wins. Or if gambling for stakes, you can play that you settle up with everybody paying or receiving the differences in score.

Passing on low spades before play starts is almost certainly a tactical blunder because you help a player guard the Queen of Spades.

Because the penalty associated with the Queen of Spades outweighs that of the individual heart cards, leading spades early (if you can afford to, and as long as you don’t lead the ace or king) often ensures that someone else takes in this card — not you. By leading spades early, you hope to flush out the Queen of Spades, and with that card out of the way, you can’t be too badly hurt on a hand, even if you do win a number of hearts. So long as you don’t leave either the Ace or King of Spades insufficiently protected by small cards, leading spades early is usually safe.

You do have one challenging escape if you get a really terrible hand stuffed full of high cards. If you manage to take all the penalty cards and thus collect 26 points, you finish up doing remarkably well: You have the option of reducing your own score by 26 points or charging everyone else 26 points. This accomplishment is called shooting the moon, and just like becoming an astronaut, it’s a lot easier to do in theory than in practice. The right hand rarely comes along for it, and if your opponents see you trying to take all the tricks, they’ll save a heart or two for the end to take a couple penalty points and prevent you from achieving your aim.

Shooting the moon is more dangerous than it may seem; you lose more points in unsuccessful attempts to shoot the moon than you gain by making it. If you have a very good hand, you may choose to take an early trick with one or two points in it just to stop anyone else from trying to shoot the moon. Alternatively, you can give hearts to two different players to accomplish the same result with less discomfort to yourself.

Scoring variations in Hearts flourish as thickly as weeds on a lawn. Here, listed in descending order of frequency, are some of the most common additional scoring rules (you can play them simultaneously or not at all):

  • Shooting the sun, as opposed to the moon, involves taking all the tricks as well as all the penalty points. You get a 52-point bonus for shooting the sun.

  • Counting the Jack of Diamonds — or, in some circles, the 10 of Diamonds — as a bonus card is quite common. Winning the trick with that card in it has real merit because it reduces your penalty points by 11 (or 10, in the case of the 10 of Diamonds). If you have fewer penalty points than 10, you can even finish up being plus for the hand.

    If you allow shooting the moon, you generally don’t need to take the Jack of Diamonds to shoot the moon, but some versions of the game require that you win this card, too.

    Implementing the rule about the Jack of Diamonds influences which cards you decide to pass on. You may want to keep the top diamonds in order to try for the prize. However, you may find capturing the Jack of Diamonds is easier if you pass it on. In high-level games, you’re unlikely to find players winning tricks in diamonds early on with this card. In practice, because players rarely get the chance to take an early diamond trick with this card, it tends to get discarded at the end of the hand.

  • If you manage to score exactly 100 points, your score is immediately halved to 50 points. Some versions play that if you avoid scoring any points on the next hand, you further reduce your score to zero.

  • The 10 of Clubs can be a potentially lethal card if you play the rule that the card doubles the value of the penalty points for whoever takes it. For example, capturing the 10 of Clubs and three heart cards costs you 6 points, not 3.

  • The Ace of Hearts may be charged at 5 points, not 1.

  • Anyone who avoids winning a trick in a hand may be credited with -5 points.

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