Playing Hearts: The Basic Rules

Hearts is a game of skill — to a certain extent. You rely on luck to get good cards dealt to you, but strategic playing and a good memory make an enormous difference in this game. Keeping track of the cards played in each suit helps you to master this game, and practice and experience have no substitute.

Hearts is a cutthroat game, meaning that you normally don’t play in partnerships, no matter the number of players involved. The game here focuses on the four-player game, where all the cards are distributed evenly, 13 to a player.

The game revolves around tricks. In a trick, everyone takes turns playing one card. Whoever plays the highest card in the suit led (the suit of the first card played) picks up all the cards played. The person who wins the trick leads a card to the next trick. He can lead anything he likes — with one exception, he can't play a heart until someone else discards a heart on a trick. The process repeats itself until all the cards have hit the table.

Unlike most competitive games, the object of Hearts is to avoid scoring points. More specifically, the aim is not to win tricks that contain certain cards that score you points.

The name of the game holds the clue: The problem suit in this game is hearts. For each heard you have at the end of each hand, you get one point. However, the Queen of Spades has a big — and nasty! — role in the game, too. Whoever wins that card in a trick picks up a 13-point penalty. That makes the Queen of Spades as bad as all the hearts put together.

You play Hearts to a set score, and the winner of the game is the player who has the lowest score when another player goes over the top. Alternatively, you can play a set number of hands and stop the game at that point, with the lowest score winning.

At the start of the game, you cut for seating rather than just for the deal, because the seating positions matter in Hearts. Arrange the seating from the highest card to the lowest, with the player who cut the lowest card dealing the first hand. You stay in the same seats for the whole game. The dealer shuffles and passes the cards to the opponent on his right to cut.

Deal all the cards out in the traditional fashion — one card at a time, face-down, and clockwise. At the end of every hand, the deal passes to the left to the next player.

Misdeals can arise in a number of ways. If a card appears face-up in the deck, the dealer gives out the wrong number of cards, or the dealer turns over anyone else’s cards, the hand is immediately redealt with no penalties. If the dealer manages to turn over one of her own cards, the deal stands, with the only consequence being that the other players have a little extra information about her hand.

If no player spots that some players have the wrong number of cards before play begins, the deal stands, but the penalties are very severe. Play continues until the last possible valid trick, when the players with the wrong number of cards pick up the penalties for the unplayed heart cards as if they had won the tricks with those cards in them.

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