Hearts - A Classic Card Game


Hearts, a traditional card game , evolved from a game called Reverse (or Reversis), that was played in Europe from the 16th through the 19th centuries. In Reverse, the goal

Old German Playing Cards
Old German Playing Cards

was to avoid capturing tricks that contained certain high cards-most importantly, the Jack of hearts and the four aces. Around 1850, Reverse gave way to a simple form of Hearts, which went on to become one of the most popular card games in the United States, surpassed only by Euchre and Poker. Hearts was a favorite game on Mississippi riverboats after the Civil War. In the early 1900s, Bridge became the rage, and interest in Hearts, Euchre, and Whist (the forerunner of Bridge) started to wane. Card game experts Albert H.Morehead and Geoffrey Matt-Smith, quoting a discussion of Hearts in Culbertson's Hoyle (Greystone Press, New York, 1950), declared that the game of Hearts was "simple as to the rules, but difficult as Whist to play well," adding, that "this austere game has been greatly popularized during the past fifty years by the addition of certain features that add to the variety."T hose features included the addition of a big penalty card (the queen of spades) and the option of "Shooting the Moon" (one player's capturing all the points in the same hand).

Other modifications followed, including the passing of cards, the required lead of the deuce of clubs, and the Jack of Diamonds variation. The game of Hearts has made a nice comeback in recent years, thanks to the Internet and the public's renewed interest in live events. This game is usually introduced to children, and is played by College students, as well.

Basic Elements

Hearts is a very easy game to learn. Although there are three - handed, five-handed, and partnership variations, the best game is the four-handed version, with each person playing individually ("cutthroat"). A regular pack of 52 cards is used, with the cards of each suit ranking from the ace (high) down to the deuce. There is no trump, and the joker is not used. Each player receives 13 cards and is required to pass any three undesired cards of his choice in a prescribed rotation.

The idea behind the pass is to give each player the opportunity to improve his hand. A player must complete the pass before looking at the cards passed to him. Some groups also have a no-pass ("hold") hand on every fourth deal; for example, on four successive deals, each player will pass cards to the player on his left, to the player on his right, to the player sitting across, and then to no one. The opening lead is made by the player holding the deuce of clubs. Everyone else, taking turns in clockwise order, must follow suit. A player who is void in the suit led may discard any card; however, a standard rule prohibits the discarding of the spade queen or a heart on the first trick of the hand. The heart suit may not be led until a heart (or, under some versions of the rules, the queen of spades) has been discarded previously, unless, of course, the player has only hearts left to lead. Once again, there are variations, and a player is advised to ask about the local Rules of the game before proceeding.

The Object of the Game

The goal in Hearts, as in golf, is to achieve the lowest score. The idea is to avoid capturing tricks containing paint cards, which are the 13 hearts (worth 1 point each) and the queen of spades (worth 13 points). The game ends when someone at the table accumulates 100 points, at which time the player with the lowest score wins. Most beginners employ a "duck and dump" approach to the game. As a player improves, he learns to aim for the player with the low score and to play defensively. If any player manages to win all of the hearts and the spade queen during the same hand, he is credited with "Shooting the Moon." Instead of scoring 26 points, this lucky chap now has the option of subtracting 26 points from his score or adding 26 points to each of his opponents' scores. Many Moons are made because players refuse to pass a low or middle heart, or will not take a trick worth four points! There is also a variation (known as Omnibus Hearts) featuring the jack of diamonds as a bonus card that scores -10 points for the person who takes it during the play of each hand.

Hearts is a terrific game, which rewards memory and strategy skills.

Copyright, 2003 by Joe Andrews. For more information on "The Complete Win At Hearts " (Book) please send an email to - heartsmoon@aol.com.