Setting Up
The Deal and Passing
The Play of the Hand
Turbo Hearts
Cancellation Hearts
Spot Hearts
Black Maria
Dirty Nasty Filthy Hearts





Culture & Cosmos Card Games

How to Play Hearts

Hearts first came to prominence towards the end of the 19th century and is now a popular card game in a number of continents. The trick taking game has the overall objective of avoiding winning tricks containing hearts - with the queen of spades best to avoided also.

The following pages explain and describe the American version of Hearts first; and some descriptions of variations can be found at the bottom as well.

Setting Up

The most common version of the game is played by four people, with no formal partnerships unlike other games such as Six Card Cribbage and Spades. There are however circumstances and scenarios where players will find it in their interest to help and guide each other - for instance in preventing a player winning. The game is played out with a standard deck of 52 card, with each card providing a certain value - two (lowest) to Ace (highest) in ranking. Each heart is also worth one penalty point and, as mentioned in the introduction, the Queen of Spades has a large penalty of 13 points. All other cards have no value.

The object of the game is - contrary to most card games - to avoid scoring points. This is contrary to playing a game like Texas Holdem where the winner has the best hand. Read more about the value of the hand rankings at this poker forum. The game of Hearts ends when a player reaches over 100 points. The winner is the player with the lowest score when this happens.

The Deal and Passing

The deal and play all takes place in clockwise motion, with each card being dealt to players one at a time, with each player having 13 cards.

In the first hand after the deal has taken place, each player should pass any three cards face down to the player to their left. This must be done so by each player selecting the cards to be passed (strategically), and placing them face down so the other player can pick them up. After this is done, you can then look at your own cards that have been passed to you and look at them, incorporating into your hand.

On the second hand, each player then passes three cards to the player to their right in the same manner as the first hand. On the third hand, each player then passes three cards to the player sitting opposite them, and on the fourth hand, no cards are passed. This cycle repeats until the end of the game (when a player reaches 100 points).

The Play of the Hand

In starting play, the person who has the two of clubs will lead the first trick. All other players, in clockwise in order, should then play a card of the same suit led (if possible). If this can't be done, and the player doesn't have a card of the same suit led, then can play any card. The player who played the highest card of the suit led then wins the "trick". This player then leads the next "trick". It should be noted that a player cannot lead with a heart until after a heart has been played to a previous trick (unless your hand only has heart cards). When a player discards and put down a heart, is thus allows other players to lead with hearts in future games - this is known as "breaking hearts". Normally, putting down a penalty card on a trick (such as not a card of the same suit) is known as "painting" the trick (as it adds more 'color' to the pack).

Any player whose hand consist purely of hearts can lead any heart "breaking hearts" - even if the hearts haven't been broken previously. Players can also lead with a spade to any trick after the first hand, and it is actually common tactics to lead out with your lowest spade in order to drive out the queen in the pack (with a penalty of 13 points) - this is known as "smoking out the queen" in some places.


Scoring is defined by the each players hand and penalty points imposed. Each hart played scores one points, and 13 points is imposed for the Queen of Spades. If a player manages to win all the scoring cards, known as "slam" or "shooting the moon", than the player's score is reduced by 26 points (however conversely everyone else's score can be added by 26 points instead). The game will continue until one of the players reaches or surpasses 100 points at the end of a hand. The person with the lowest score is then the winner.



Some games play that only 12 cards are dealt to each player by the dealer. Four cards are dealt to a face down kitty by the dealer, which adds to the first player's tricks who takes a penalty card. A kitty can also be useful in order to cope with the fact that not all the cards cannot be dealt evenly when there are more than, or less than four players in the game.


In the game, different passing rules and alternate cycles can be adopted in play. This can include passing left, right, across (opposite player) and then repeated; or the players can pass cards in scatters instead of hold (i.e. player passes one card to every other player). Lastly, a passing method can be used called a "mix". This is where everyone discards three cards into a pile in the middle of the table. This is then shuffled and redealt to all the players. A kitty can also be used and shuffled too, so that the kitty will contain a number of the discards.

A number of players also say that player do not have to pass any cards if they don't want to. Instead, players can just pass on the cards passed to them from another player - without looking at them. (This can result in players getting their original cards back).

Play of the Hand

In some games, the rules allow any player to lead with hearts at any time. This was also the original rule of the game it is thought, however in USA now virtually all Hearts players say leading with hearts is forbidden (unless of course they have already been broken). The original rule in the provenance game said that the player to the dealer's left should always lead the first trick (as opposed to the holder o the two of clubs), and he/she can lead with any card. While many games still use these rules, there is the optional rule available to restrict players leading with a heart.

Some games also follow rules that suggest one cannot play points on the first trick. This can be done if a player has nothing but penalty cards (such as all hearts) however. Another aberration and rule is that the Queen of Spades can break hearts. For example, after the Queen of Spades has been played, any other player can then put down a heart. In this scenario, some players say that if hearts have not yet been broken, but a player holds nothing but hearts and the Queen of Spades, than hearts can in fact be led, rather than making the player lead with the Queen of Spades penalty card.

Some also claim a player holding the Queen of Spades must play it as soon as it is 'safe to do so'. Scenarios in this situation could include players who are bereft of the suit led, or in a spade trick when the Ace or indeed King of Spades has been played in the trick.


A lot of games and versions of Hearts played across the world play that the Jack of Diamonds (and sometimes the Ten of Diamonds) is a bonus card - giving a 10 point reduction bonus to the player who takes it. This form of scoring is known as "Omnibus Hearts". In this game, in order to "shoot the moon", a player needs all the hearts and the Queen of Spades. Just like usual, player's can also have 26 points deducted from their score (or 26 added to every other player instead). In addition to this, 10 points are deducted from the score of any player who takes the Jack of Diamonds (this can also be the shooter).

"Shooting the Sun" happens when a player takes all the tricks. A number of games give this a score of 52 points with the scoring similar as in shooting the moon. Variations for choices of scores for shooting the moon also include the following possibilities:
The shooter always gets 26 points deducted from his current total (or all other players have the 26 points added instead); all other players have the 26 points added unless this would cause a player to win, in which case the reverse takes place, and the shooter has 26 points deducted.

As well as this, in some game rules attaining and reaching a certain score has special effect. For example, if a player reaches exactly 100 points at the end of his hand, than it is reduced to 50 (or zero), and if a player reaches/exceeds 100 points in a situation where there is a tie for the lowest score, then more hands are played until a clear winner emerges.

Partnership Hearts

In partnership Hearts there are two different ways players can play the game in, with fixed partnerships/partners sitting opposite from each other.

The first option is for players to work in teams with their tricks together. This means that for each hand the team scores the total number of penalty point that been taken in the tricks. When a slam occurs here, the team takes all 14 penalty cards in a hand, and they can either subtract 26 points from their own score or give the opponents 26 additional points instead.

Another option requires player to keep an individual score. When "shooting the moon", a player needs to win all the penalty games, and the game will continue until one of the individuals in both teams reaches 100 or more. The score of the individuals are than added for the team's total. For example, if you team had a score of 78 and 69 from their respective player's, and another got 105 and 34, than the latter team wins.

Other Numbers of Players

Hearts can be played with three or even five players as previously mentioned in the article. The rules and features of the game must be varied slightly in order to accommodate the fact that cards can't be dealt out equally to all of the players.

17 Cards are dealed to each player in the 3-plater game, or 10 cards to each player in a 5-player game. The one or two leftover cards are the "kitty", and are placed face down in the middle of the table. These should also be dealt during the middle of the deal, and not be the last cards remaining (this is because the dealer should get the last card, which prevent any problems of the dealer accidentally seeing the last card during the deal).

The first player to take the trick and the first penalty points should take the kitty cards, look at them, and place them with his/her captured cards. If the player picks up the two of clubs from the kitty, than the player with the next lowest club in the deck should lead. The person who takes the first point/trick thus adds the kitty to their hand and then discards the same number of cards face down into their own tricks.

In the 3-player game, the two of diamonds should be removed from the deck. As well as this, the passing procedure can follow either "left, right, hold repeat", "left, right, repeat"; or players can pass four cards instead of three by scatter passing two cards to every other player. Scatter passing could thus be included in any of the above methods.

In the 5-player game, the two of clubs is removed and the holder of the three of clubs starts (leads first trick). In this game, the passing patter can follow "left, right, hold repeat", "left, right, repeat", "left, right, 2nd person to the left, 2nd person to the right, hold repeat" or "left, right, 2nd to the left, hold, left, right, 2nd to the right, hold, repeat".

Turbo Hearts

Another version of Hearts, Turbo Hearts, gained prominence in the 1980's by Richard Garfield,is an American version of the Chinese game Gong Zhu - literally interpreted "Catch the Pig".

The Turbo Hearts game has the following additional features:
If a player captures the ten of clubs, he has his score doubled for that hand. Any time in a game after the pass but before the first lead, a player can "turbo-charge" any of the following cards - Ace of Hearts, Queen of Spades, Jack of Diamonds and Ten of Clubs. This s done by placing te card face up in front of them. Notably, a turbo-charged cards does the following things:

Turbo-charged Queen of Spades or Jack of Diamonds doubles the value of the card for the hand; turbo-charged Ace of Hearts doubles the value of all the hearts for that hand; turbo-charged ten of clubs quadruples the score for the hand for the player that captures it. Note that a player cannot play a turbo-charged card for the first time a card of that suit is led.

Booster Nines

Richard Garfield also recorded another variation of the game which was introduced circa 1990. If a nine is led to a trick, or is played following suit then there is a "boost". This means that another round is played in the same suit (one more card from each player in normal order). The suit first card led (out of the eight) is the leading suit, and the highest card of the suit takes the trick. Note, if a nine is "sloughed" - that is discarded on a lead of an alternative suit or player in the last trick - there is not boost and the trick will consist of four cards as normal. You'll note the Booster Nines features makes "shooting the moon" somewhat easier, as players can dump a loser on their own good nine (or forced a player to draw one out).

Cancellation Hearts

A 6 to 10 player version of the game, Cancellation Hearts has a few additional features and uses two 52 card packs mixed together.
Cards are dealt by the dealer as far as can be done so with all players having the same number of cards each. The remaining cards (if any) are then place face down in the kitty, which the winner of the first trick takes. The player to the dealer's left leads first, and can play anything.

In Cancellation hearts, when two identical hearts are played to a trick, they automatically cancel each other out (trick taking power), however they can still carry penalty points. The trick is taken but the player who puts down the highest card of the suit led (which isn't a duplicated). If a situation arises where all the cards of the played suit are cancelling pairs, then the trick should remain on the table and the same player leads again - the winner of the next trick will then collect the cards.

Spot Hearts

In this variation, the penalty value of the heats is their "pip-value". This means, the two of earts is 2 penalty points, 3 of hearts equals 3 penalty points and so on. The Jack of hearts notably carries 11 points, Queen carries 12, King carries 13 and Ace is 14. Also, the Queen of Spades in this game has a point of 25. With this in mind, the game of Spot Hearts normally ends when a player reaches 500 points, as it is much easier/quicker to get penalty points.

Black Maria

This is a British version of Hearts, and is also known colloquially as "Dirty Lady" and "Slippery Bitch". There is also a Finish game called Black Maria, however this is entirely different to Hearts.

In British Black Maria, the game usually consists of 3 players, with 17 cards dealt to each player. The two of clubs is also removed from the pack beforehand. The game can also be played by four people; in which case all the cards will be dealt out (13 each).

When dealing the cards, the rules say three should be passed to the right, however many players pass three to the left. The player to the dealer's left should lead first, and can play anything - including hearts. The various scoring scheme are:
1 point for each heart, 13 for the Queen of Spades.
1 for each heart, 13 of Queen of Spades, 10 for King of Spades and 7 for Ace of Spades.

Or - like Spot Hearts - 2-10 for the heart cards, JQK of hearts worth 10 points each, Ace of Hearts worth 15 points, Queen of Spades worth 25 points. Note that in this game, the game is played to 500 like Spot Hearts (as opposed to 100).

Dirty Nasty Filthy Hearts

Also known as the "Nasty Fix", this Florida based Hearts game also has an interestingly unique system of scoring. Also, because there are a larger number of penalty points in the game, when a player reaches 300 points than the game ends, and the player with the least points wins.

The following rules are set out below:
The Jack of Diamonds is worth minus ten points (-10), and is known as "The Lil Man" and "Cake Dady". The Queen of spades or "The Queen Bitch" carries 26 penalty points, and the other Queen's are worth 13 points each. The penalty for the Queen of Spades ("The Queen Bitch") is 26 points, and the other three Queens cost 13 points apiece.

If a player successfully "shoots" - i.e. takes all the counting cards in their trick, they win the game. Also, the person to his left should vacate the seat for anyone wanting to join the next game.

Points cannot be thrown on the first trick - "The Calm". Instead, some players play "Wide Open" which allows anything to be thrown on the first trick. Also, the player with the 2 of clubs starts, leading it with the first trick.

After the cut is made, before the deal, the dealer can "call pass" which specifies how the cards will be passed for the hand. For example: two to the left, one to the right. Another option is a special pass called "Shittin' in the Kitty" whereby everyone passes cards to the middle, and these 12 cards are then shuffled and dealt again by the dealer.

Throwing hearts is called "painting", and running the spades suit is called "Beating the Bitch". The Queen of Clubs and Queen of Hearts are named "The Weak Bitches" as the Queen of clubs is the main throwoff suit, and the Queen of Hearts is the paint suit. Low cards are named "duckers". Getting bored with Hearts? Play the best online casino on the net and see if your luck pays off.




<< Back to Card Games Home

Last Updated on: August 3, 1999
Comments to: info@cultureandcosmos.com