How to Play Hearts

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Hearts works particularly well for mixed age groups -- simple enough for kids, but nonetheless challenging for adults.  The rules below are for a four-player game -- alternatives for more or fewer hands are offered afterwards.

* 13 cards are dealt to each player

* Each player chooses three cards, and passes them to another player.

* The first round of play is led by the player to the left of the dealer. Each other player, in clockwise order, then plays a card from their hand. Players must "follow suit"; that is, play a card of the same suit as the lead card, if they are able. If they are not able to do so, they can play any card. The "trick" is won by the player who played the highest-value card of the suit that was led. That player wins all the cards played that round, and then becomes the lead player for the next trick. Play continues until all players have exhausted their hands.

* Each Heart taken in a trick scores one penalty point against the player winning the trick, and taking the Q costs 13 penalty points. There are thus 26 penalty points in each deal.

* A player "shoots the moon" by taking all the penalty cards on one deal. Instead of suffering 26 penalty points, the moon-shooting player's score remains unchanged while 26 penalty points are added to the scores of each of the other players.


Common Variations include...

* The player holding the 2♣ must lead it to begin the first trick.

* Hearts cannot be led until after they have been "broken" by someone discarding a heart.

* No penalty card can be played on the first trick.

* The 10 or J is a "bonus" card, subtracting 10 penalty points from the player who captures it.

Players who take no tricks in a deal may subtract five points from their scores.

* A player who shoots the moon by taking all thirteen tricks, may add 52 points to the player who passed to him or her, and 26 points to all others.

* A player who shoots the moon by taking all thirteen tricks may revert their score back to zero


For smaller or larger groups:

  • When there are only three players, the 2 is removed from the deck before play commences, and each player receives 17 cards. In another alternative, a randomly chosen card is set aside face down at the beginning of play; this card goes to whoever takes the first Heart.
  • When there are five players, the 2 is removed as well as the 2, and each player receives 10 cards.  Alternatively, three Jokers (usually the two from one deck plus one from a similar deck) can be added, and each player receives 11. In another alternative, two randomly chosen cards are set aside face down at the beginning of play; these cards go to whoever takes the first heart.
  • When there are six players, the jokers are inserted
  • When there are more than six players two packs may be used, with 2s removed or jokers added to make an even number of cards per player. In the case where the same value card is played twice in a round, the second card beats the first. Jokers count as Hearts higher than the Ace, with a penalty value of -2.

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