How to play Hearts?

Hearts is a classic trick-taking card game that challenges players to skilfully manoeuvre their way to the lowest score. This article provides an overview of the game, including its objective, the number of players required, the average game length, and the detailed rules that govern gameplay. It also offers winning strategies and valuable insights to help players of all skill levels enhance their performance and increase their chances of emerging victorious.

hearts gameplay

Game Overview

Hearts is a trick-avoidance card game that has been enjoyed by players for many years. The game’s simplicity and challenging gameplay make it appealing to a wide range of players. Let’s examine the key aspects of the game.

Objective of the game 

The primary objective is to score the fewest points possible. Points are accrued by capturing specific cards during the game, namely:

  • Hearts cards (each worth 1 point)
  • The Queen of Spades (worth 13 points)

The game concludes when one player reaches or exceeds a predetermined point limit, typically 50 or 100 points. The person with the lowest score at the end of the game emerges as the winner.

Number of players required

The game is traditionally played with four players. However, there are variations that accommodate different users counts:

Number of PlayersGame Variation
Remove the 2 of diamonds, each player receives 17 cards
Remove the 2 of diamonds and 2 of clubs, each person receives 10 cards
Remove all four 2s, all users receives 8 cards

Average game length 

A typical game of Hearts with four players lasts approximately 30 minutes. This duration may vary depending on factors such as:

  • The predetermined point limit (50 or 100 points)
  • The experience and skill level of the players
  • The occurrence of special events, like Shooting the Moon (capturing all point cards in a single hand)

Each hand, or round, generally takes 3-5 minutes to complete. As players become more experienced and familiar with the game, the overall pace of play tends to increase.

Hearts Card Game Rules

Now that you have a general idea of the game, it’s time to learn the intricacies of the rules. Once you understand them, you’ll be playing like a pro in no time.

Rank of cards

The ranks are simple: Aces reign supreme, followed by the King, Queen, and Jack, all the way down to the lowly deuce. The name of the game is to steer clear of those heart cards and the Queen of Spades – they’re the ones that’ll rack up the points against you.

Dealing cards

To kick things off, each player is dealt 13 cards. In a standard four-player game, the entire deck is dealt out. If there are more or fewer players, some cards may be removed from the deck, but the thrill remains the same.

Passing cards

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Before the first trick, you’ll have to pass a few cards to your opponents – a little smoke and mirrors to keep them guessing. The passing direction rotates each round, adding an extra layer of strategy as you try to offload those high-value cards and avoid receiving them in return.

Opening trick rules

When the action kicks off, the player holding the 2 of Clubs gets to lead the charge. From there, it’s a clockwise dance, following the suit that’s been led. But if you’re holding nothing but rags in that suit, you’re free to play any card – except for those dreaded hearts and the Queen of Spades on the first trick.

Playing tricks

The clockwise dance continues, with each player following the suit that’s been led. If you can’t follow suit, you’re free to play any card – except for those dreaded hearts and the Queen of Spades, of course.

Breaking hearts rules

Here’s the real challenge: hearts can’t be led until they’ve been “broken.” That means someone has to take the plunge and play a heart when they can’t follow suit. Once that happens, the floodgates are open, and those heart cards are fair game.

Shooting the Moon/Sun

Now, for the high-rollers among you, there’s a move that can really shake things up: shooting the moon. If you manage to capture all 13 hearts and the Queen of Spades in a single hand, you’ll walk away with zero points for that round, while your opponents take a hefty 26-point penalty each. It’s a risky play, but one that could swing the game in your favour if you’ve got the nerves of steel.

And if you’re feeling truly audacious, some variations even allow for “shooting the sun” – capturing all 52 cards in a single hand. It’s a rare feat, but one that could leave your opponents reeling with a 52-point penalty each. 

TRAM (optional)

In some online versions of Hearts, a “TRAM” (The Rest Are Mine) button may appear when a player is guaranteed to win all the remaining tricks in a hand. Clicking this button automatically awards the remaining tricks to that player, speeding up gameplay.

How to Play Hearts: Step-by-Step Guide 

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals and rules of Hearts, it’s time to learn how to play the game effectively. Follow these step-by-step instructions to play online.

  1. Gather 3–6 players and a standard 52-card deck (no jokers). Online platforms provide a virtual table.
  2. Dealer distributes cards evenly (13 cards each in a 4-player game).
  3. If passing cards, each player selects 3 cards to pass in a rotating order: left, right, across, none.
  4. Player with 2 of Clubs leads the first trick. Others must follow suit if possible, no hearts/Queen of Spades on the first trick. The highest card of led suit wins trick.
  5. Trick winner leads next trick. Hearts can only be led once “broken” by playing a heart when it couldn’t follow suit.
  6. Score after 13 tricks: 1 point per heart, 13 for Queen of Spades. Shooting moon (taking all hearts/Queen) is 0, others get 26.
  7. New hand with rotating dealer and passing order.
  8. Game ends when a player reaches target score (50/100 points). The lowest scorer wins.

With practice and experience, players can improve their strategic thinking and decision-making skills in Hearts. Consistent play and observation of opponents’ strategies will lead to better performance in the game.

Scoring example

Let’s say you’re playing a four-player game, and at the end of a hand, the participants have captured the following cards:

PlayerHearts CapturedQueen of Spades Captured

The scores for this hand would be:

  • Alice: 17 points (4 hearts + 13 for the Queen of Spades)
  • Bob: 2 points (2 hearts)
  • Charlie: 7 points (7 hearts)
  • Diana: 0 points

These scores would be added to each player’s running total from previous hands. The game continues until one or more players reach the predetermined score threshold, at which point the person with the lowest total score is declared the winner.

Winning Strategies for Hearts 

Now that you’ve got a solid grasp on the rules and scoring of Hearts, it’s time to delve into some winning strategies. These tips and tricks will help you minimize your points and maximize your chances of victory.

Pre-game Preparation

  1. Analyze your hand: Take a moment to assess the cards you’ve been dealt. Look for opportunities to create voids (no cards in a particular suit) or to avoid taking high-value cards.
  2. Consider your passing strategy: If you’re playing with the passing rule, think carefully about which cards to pass. Aim to get rid of high-value cards or to create voids in suits where you have dangerous high cards.
  3. Watch for the Queen of Spades: If you have the Queen of Spades, consider passing it unless you have a strong holding in the spade suit. If you don’t have the Queen, be mindful of who might have it based on the cards you’ve seen.

Navigating the Early Game

  1. Avoid taking points: In the early tricks, focus on avoiding hearts and the Queen of Spades. If you have the opportunity to take a trick without capturing any points, go for it.
  2. Lead low cards: If you have to lead, start with your lowest card in a suit. This will help you avoid taking high-value cards later in the hand.
  3. Pay attention to the cards played: Monitor which cards have been played, especially high-value cards like the Ace and King of hearts, and the Queen of Spades. This information will help you make better decisions later in the hand.

Endgame Excellence

  1. Avoid leading hearts: Unless you’re trying to shoot the moon, avoid leading hearts until they’ve been broken (played by someone who couldn’t follow suit).
  2. Dump high-value cards: If you have the opportunity to play a high-value card on someone else’s lead, take it. This is especially important if you think you might be forced to take the trick anyway.
  3. Plan your endgame: As the hand progresses, start thinking about how you want to play the last few tricks. Try to position yourself so that you’re not forced to take hearts or the Queen of Spades.

Advanced Techniques

  1. Adapt to your opponents: Pay attention to how your opponents play. Do they tend to hold on to high cards or play them early? Do they often shoot for the moon? Use this information to inform your strategy.
  2. Balance risk and reward: Sometimes, taking a calculated risk (like holding on to the Queen of Spades) can pay off. However, be careful not to sabotage your overall game by taking too many chances.
  3. Manage your position: Keep an eye on your score relative to your opponents. If you’re in the lead, play conservatively. If you’re trailing, search for opportunities to catch up without jeopardizing your position.

Remember, even the best strategies won’t always work out. Hearts is a game of skill, strategy, and a bit of luck. 


What is “breaking hearts”?

It refers to the first time a heart card is played in a hand. Hearts cannot be led until they have been broken, which occurs when a player cannot follow suit and plays a heart instead.

What is “shooting the moon”?

“Shooting the moon” is when a player captures all 13 hearts and the Queen of Spades in a single hand. Instead of scoring 26 points, the person scores zero, and all other players receive 26 points.

Is there a difference between “shooting the moon” and “shooting the sun”?

Yes, “shooting the sun” is a variation where a player captures all 52 cards in a single hand. This is an extremely rare occurrence and typically results in the player scoring zero points and all other players receiving 52 points

Can I chat with other players during an online game?

Many online platforms include a chat feature that allows you to communicate with other players during the game. However, the availability and specific rules of the chat function may vary depending on the site or app you’re using.