The game of Hearts was developed during the 1800s (The Diagram Group 94). It was based on a game played during the 1700s called Reverse. It's called Hearts because winning cards from the hearts suit in tricks costs players points (Morehead and Mott-Smith 62). The name Reverse also makes sense because the object of this game is basically the reverse of the object in other trick-based games, like Whist. Hearts players are trying not to win tricks, especially the ones containing hearts cards. If you're accustomed to thinking in terms of how to win the most tricks in a game, it takes a little adjustment in thinking to get used to figuring out how to avoid taking tricks.
Below, I explain how to play Hearts with a physical card deck, but if you would like to try this game online for free, I recommend the version at solitaired.com. The game page also explains a little about the history of the game and the rules and scoring system for the variation they play.
The rules for this game come from The Key to Hoyle's Games, pp. 66-67, with some further information from The Way to Play by the Diagram Group, p. 94. Although penalty points can be given to players who fail to follow suit in the game, I recommend going easy on beginners.
Players: 3 to 7 people, although 4 is best (Players play as individuals, not teams.)
Object: To get rid of all your cards in the hearts suit.
The Deck: A regular 52-card deck
Other Equipment: Pencil and paper to help keep track of the score, possibly poker chips or similar markers. (See the Scoring section to decide which method to use.)
The Deal: Start by dealing all of the cards out to all of the players in a clockwise direction. It is important for all the players to have the same number of cards.
Important Tip: To make the deal come out evenly when you're not playing with four players, remove some of the low-ranking cards before dealing them. Just make sure not to remove one of the hearts cards.
- For 3 players, remove one of the twos (or "deuces").
- For 5 players, remove 2 deuces.
- For 6 players, remove the two of spades, the two of clubs, the two of diamonds, and the three of clubs.
- For 7 players, remove the two of spades, the two of clubes, and the two of diamonds (The Diagram Group 94).
Be sure not to remove the two of hearts if you have to take out deuces!
Tricks: The player sitting to the left of the dealer begins the game by laying a card down on the table (this is called "leading"). The other players take turns laying down cards also. If a player has cards in the suit that the first player led (the "leading suit"), he must lay down one of them (this is called "following suit"). If a player does not have any cards in that suit, he can lay down a card from any other suit (this is a good way to get rid of hearts cards, see the Strategy section below). The cards that the players lay on the table are the "trick."
Once everyone has laid down a card, the cards in the trick are given to the player who put down the highest-ranking card in the leading suit. Ace is the highest-ranking card in the game, followed by king, queen, and jack. All the other cards rank according to their number after the face cards. Twos rank the lowest. The person who won the trick lays the trick cards upside down on the table in front of him, and he gets to lead in the next trick. Play continues like this until all of the players are completely out of cards to play, or at least out of hearts cards because those are the only cards that matter in terms of points.
Note: Unlike in Whist and similar trick games, there is no trump suit. That means that the cards in the leading suit are the only cards that can ever win the trick. No cards from any other suit can possibly rank higher. If no one else follows suit (because the other players don't have any cards in the leading suit), the person who led the trick automatically wins that trick as the only player with a card in the leading suit. It doesn't matter how high the other cards rank if they are not in the leading suit.
Strategy: Don't worry about winning tricks. The fewer tricks you win, the better because you won't get as many hearts. The whole object of the game is to not end up with any hearts cards, so you want to make sure that other players win those cards instead of you. If you are leading a trick and you have some low-ranking hearts cards (ex. two of hearts, three of hearts, or four of hearts), lay down one of them. The others will have to lay down hearts cards themselves (if they have them) in order to follow suit, and most likely, their cards will be higher than yours and will take the trick. If you lay down the two of hearts as the leading card, you are guaranteed to lose the trick unless the other players have already played all of their hearts cards in prior tricks, and you're the only one with a hearts card left.
Another way to make sure the other players will take your hearts cards is to lay them down when you don't have a card of the leading suit left in your hand. Because only a card of the leading suit can win the trick, someone else will win your card along with the trick. This is a good way to get rid of high-ranking hearts cards, like the ace and the king, which would be likely to take a trick where the leading suit is hearts. If the leading suit is hearts, just play the lowest hearts card you have and hope for the best.
Players continue to lay down cards for tricks until all of the hearts cards have appeared in a trick. (Keep track of the hearts cards as you play. I've seen games where people play until all of the cards in their hands have been played, but the hearts cards are the important ones, so you can end a hand sooner if all of the hearts cards are already played.) Then, the hand ends (The Diagram Group 94). Everyone counts the number of hearts they've won in tricks to determine their score for this hand of the game.
The dealer for the next hand of the game is the player sitting to the left of the last dealer (The Diagram Group 94). You can play this game as a single hand, or you can play as many hands as you like.
Scoring: Players do not win points for the tricks that they win. Instead, points are counted by the number of hearts that players do or do not have. There are different methods for keeping track of the score. I recommend the first two methods because they're the easiest.
- Simplest Method: If you want to just play one hand of the game, the person who has the least number of hearts cards at the end is the winner. If two people are tied for the lowest number, the game is a draw.
- Pencil and Paper Method: Everyone receives a point for each heart they have at the end of a hand. The winner is the player with the lowest score at the end of the game. You can set a limit on the number of hands you want to play in a game, or you can set an upper limit of points for one player to reach to determine when the game ends (The Diagram Group 94).
- Chip Method: Players can use poker chips or a similar kind of marker to keep track of the
score. Players give the winning player one chip for each hearts card they have. (Ex. If David has three hearts,
Jane has four, Mark has five, and Carrie has just one, Carrie wins the game and the other players give her a
total of 12 chips.) If there is a tie for the fewest number of hearts cards, the number of chips the others have to pay
is divided between the tied winners. (Ex. If Carrie and Mark each have two hearts at the end of the hand, and David has five
and Jane has four, the 9 chips that David and Jane have to pay are divided between Carrie and Mark.) Sometimes
the number of chips can't be divided evenly between multiple winners. If you have different-colored chips, you
can choose a color to represent fractions, like halves. (Ex. In the last example, Carrie and Mark would each
get 4.5 chips. They can show this with four chips of one color and a single chip of another for the half.)
Variation: If you don't want to bother with the chips or chip fractions, just write down the number of chips that the players would have gotten and keep a running point total. The one with the most points/chips at the end of the game wins.
- Sweepstakes Method: Sometimes, people who play with chips have everyone add a chip to a chip pool in the center of the table for each heart they have at the end of a round. The chips stay in the pool until someone finishes a hand with no hearts at all and wins the pool. If more than one person has no hearts at the end of a hand, they divide the pool between them.
Penalties: If a player does not follow suit when he has a card of the leading suit in his hand (this is called "revoking"), he doesn't receive a penalty if he corrects his mistake before the cards are given to the person who won the trick. If he doesn't correct his mistake and the other players catch him revoking, he gets a penalty of 13 points. The hand ends immediately, and the none of the other players receive a penalty for the hand (The Diagram Group 94).