Hearts is an “evasion-type” trick-taking playing card game for four players, although variations can accommodate between three and six players. The game is also known as Black Lady, Black Maria, Black Widow, and Slippery Bitch, though any of these may refer to the similar but differently-scored game Black Lady. The game is a member of the Whist family of trick-taking games (which also includes Bridge and Spades), but the game is unique among Whist variants in that it is an evasion-type game; players avoid winning certain penalty cards in tricks, usually by avoiding winning tricks altogether.
The game of Hearts as currently known originated with a family of related games called Reversis, which became popular around 1750 in Spain. In this game, a penalty point was awarded for each trick won, plus additional points for capturing J♥ or Q♥. A similar game called “Four Jacks” centered around avoiding any trick containing a Jack, which were worth one penalty point, and J♠ worth two.
Over time, additional penalty cards were added to Reversis, and around 1850, the game gave way to a simple variant of Hearts, where each heart was worth 1 point. The Q♠ (sometimes referred to as “Calamity Jane”) was introduced in a variant called Black Maria which then became known as the standard Hearts game, and soon thereafter, the idea of “shooting the moon” was introduced to the game to add depth to the gameplay. In the 1920s, the J♦ variation (ten positive points) was introduced, and some time later the scoring was reversed so that penalty points were expressed as positive instead of negative. Passing cards, breaking hearts, leading 2♣, and “shooting the foot”, whereby a player attempts to shoot the moon, but succeeds in taking the Queen and all but one heart, are more recent additions.
The game has increased in popularity through Internet gaming sites.
Rules of Hearts
Here are the rules for the card game Hearts:
- The objective of Hearts is to get as few hearts as possible. Each heart gives you one penalty point. There is also a special card, which is the Queen of Spades. It gives you 13 penalty points! This is a game where you want a lower score rather than high.
- To begin, each player will be dealt 13 cards. You’ll then select three cards when the game begins to pass to one of the opponents. Typically it’s best to pass your three worst cards to try and get rid of them. The opponent which you pass to varies (we’ll handle that part for you), you start by passing to the opponent on your left. Then, in the following game you pass to your opponent on the right. For the third game you pass straight across the table and in the 4th game you keep your cards and do not pass any.
- The player who has the 2 of clubs at the beginning leads in the first hand, and that player has to lead with the 2 of clubs.
- Each turn begins with one player laying a single card, which is called ‘leading.’ That card’s suit determines the suit of the trick. Then each of the players each plays one card.
- If they have a card in the same suit as the first card then that suit must be played. If not, they can play any of their other cards. Once 4 cards have been played, the player who played the highest ranking card takes the trick. This means he or she takes the 4 cards on the table and starts the next turn. Any penalty cards (any hearts or queen of spades) the trick are added to the player’s penalty score. Try to avoid these unless you are shooting the moon which we’ll touch on later.
- You may not lead a trick with hearts until hearts has been played on another suit (aka ‘broken’). If it is your turn to lead and no hearts have been played thus far, you cannot select a heart as the card to play. In some versions of game Hearts you cannot play the Queen of Spades until hearts has been broken, but in this variation you can always play the queen of spades and it doesn’t break hearts.
- In the first round you may not play a heart or the queen of spades, even if you do not possess any card in the suit of the starting card.
- After all cards have been played, the penalty points are counted and the player with the smallest number of points wins that particular hand. When one of the players reaches at least 100 points then the game is finished, and the player with the least number of points is the winner. If points are over 100 and there are 2 or more equal with the fewest points then play will continue until there is only one clear winner.
- Back to ‘shooting the moon.’ Typically it is not good to get penalty cards, but there is a circumstance where it can hugely benefit you. If you get ALL the penalty cards (thirteen hearts and the Queen of Spades) then you get zero points and all other players get 26 points each. Trying this can be a somewhat risky move, since if another player gets just one of the hearts you will end up with lots of points. Alright, now that we’ve we’ve got that down let’s play some Hearts!