How to Play Hearts: A Comprehensive Overview

Are you looking for a fun game to play with family or friends?

Hearts is one of the simplest yet deceptively in-depth card games you can play. Hearts is a classic trick-taking card game with the objective of scoring the lowest number of points. All you need is a standard 52-card deck, yourself, and three people eager to play cards, and you’re good to go.

So, how do you play the game called Hearts? This guide will cover everything you need to know to learn this exciting game, including the top tips and tricks to master it.

How to Play Hearts

Before answering “how do you play Hearts?” you need to know the game’s origin. It dates back to the 18th century as a simple game played in noble circles. Historically, the game was known as Reverse because the object of the game was to score the lowest number of points.

It also has some interesting names. For example, the Hearts game of today is known as “Rickety Kate” in Australia.

Anyway, here’s what you need to know about how to play Hearts 

Objective of Hearts

Every game of Hearts ends by counting up each player’s score when the first person reaches 100 points. The lowest score wins, and there’s no threshold for how low your score has to be to win. Your only aim is to defeat your three opponents.

To get the lowest score, you must avoid winning tricks that include a heart or the Black Maria (Queen of Spades).

But what if you’ve been passing cards and get stuck with many hearts right out of the gate? The alternate way to win is to collect all 13 hearts plus the Black Maria. It’s a rare outcome, but it’s always a guaranteed win if you can make it happen.

Number of Players

Standard Hearts card game rules dictate that four players make up the game. There are no established partnerships, but this won’t stop some players from forming temporary alliances when it’s in their best interests.

It’s also possible to play Hearts with three players, which we’ll discuss later.

Hearts Rules

Everyone will have 13 cards to start the game in a classic four-player game. The player with the two of clubs is required to begin with the first trick.

Moving clockwise around the circle, every player must put down the next highest card in sequence. If you cannot play the three of clubs, you can discard a card of any other suit. Note that you cannot play a heart or the Black Maria during the first led trick.

The highest card played is the winner of the trick. If you win the trick, you keep all the cards won. Stack them up in front of yourself facedown. These will be counted at the end of the game for Hearts scoring purposes.

The winner of the trick always starts the next trick with any card or suit of their choosing. However, hearts cannot lead a suit until a heart, or the Black Maria, has been played (known as breaking hearts).

Note that under Hearts rules, there are no trump suits. Your only goal is to ensure someone else has the hearts when they pick up their tricks.

How to Deal

Every game starts by deciding who the dealer is. Some players may simply denote a dealer and switch the responsibility around every game. However, a dealer must be selected under conventional Hearts card game rules.

Shuffle the deck and ask every player to draw one card. Traditionally, the player who holds the lowest card will become the dealer.

The dealer will reshuffle the deck and deal clockwise until every player has 13 cards.

Passing Cards

The game begins by viewing your hand. The essence of how to play the Hearts card game is to strategize at this early stage.

The passing cards round allows you to choose three cards and pass them face down to another player. All players must pass their cards before looking at any cards they received.

You don’t get to decide who to pass your cards to. In a four-person game, it works like so. The first hand will pass to the player on their immediate left. The second hand passes to the player on their immediate right. The third hand will pass directly across the table, and the fourth hand will not pass at all.

Don’t worry. Passing your cards correctly is more straightforward than it sounds!

Hearts Scoring

The scoring system is relatively easy to grasp when learning how to play Hearts. Use a simple score sheet with a column set for each player.

Count up the number of hearts each player has at the conclusion of every hand. Every heart is worth a single point, whereas the Black Maria is worth 13 points. None of the other cards in the deck are worth anything.

Hearts is classically played until 100 points have been reached, but many people also opt for 50 points to keep the game moving. The player with the lowest total wins whenever anyone passes the pre-agreed score.

Note that there’s an alternate way to win. Collect all 13 hearts and the Black Maria in a hand, and you’ve achieved “shooting the moon.” It’s the most powerful result in the game because you can not only subtract 26 points from your score, but you can add 26 points to everyone else’s score.

Shooting the moon means you need to play with heart and get extremely lucky. Bad luck might get you halfway there, but anyone who’s played the game before will soon see what you’re trying to do. It’s the only time in the game of Hearts where you’ll possibly see everyone teaming up against one player to stop them from winning the remaining cards.


There’s a substantial degree of honesty in this game. Players are required to follow the suit when they’re able. If they don’t do this, they have until the end of the current trick to correct their mistake.

If they fail to do so, they get what’s known as a “revoke.” A revoke is where the offender receives a charge of every heart in that deal. No other player will receive any penalty points.

Of course, if you’re playing with family and friends, you can decide how harsh you want to be.

Tricks to Play

Where should you get started when working out how to play Hearts? It’s not always obvious where you should begin. Here are some smart principles to adopt when learning the game for the first time.

Pass the Two of Clubs

Many novices believe they want to be the ones to kick off the game. Not so. Passing the two of clubs to someone else gives you an advantage by potentially letting you lead the next trick, thus dictating the game's pace.

Don’t Pass the Ace of Clubs

The winner of the first trick in a game of Hearts always has a decisive advantage. Possessing the ace of clubs puts you in a powerful position to win that first trick since you know the first suit on the board will be clubs.

Never Lead with Any Ace

Leading with an ace is risky because you don’t know if someone has already voided that suit, thus giving you a heart or the Black Maria. Leading with an ace guarantees winning the trick. If you want to be sneaky, you can use your aces to make it easier to shoot the moon.

Keep Your Low Hearts in Storage

If the hearts have already been broken, you can lead with a heart for any subsequent trick. Maintaining low hearts can prevent you from taking more penalty points in a single trick.

Pass the Black Maria with Care

Some players decide to pass the Black Maria, and others will choose to keep her. Holding it might be a good idea. Passing it to the left means you’re left in a situation where your opponent decides when she’s played.

If you’re going to pass it, shuffle it to the right if you don’t have any spades that are lower than it.

Always Keep Your Last Club

Passing your last club is like telling your opponents which strategy you’re playing with. If the other players know you’ve thrown a king or ace of clubs to someone else, they will switch up their game plan accordingly.

Having a club on the first trick is a good idea because it keeps everybody guessing.

Hold the Ace of Hearts

Holding the ace of hearts is a powerful card because it guarantees you’ll win at least a single point. But wait, isn’t the aim of the game to avoid scoring points?

Yes, but holding the ace of hearts is so potent because it can be used to shoot the moon or stop somebody else from shooting the moon.

Study What Was Passed to You

The cards you received from one of your opponents are a window into their strategy. Think about why they passed you those specific cards. This is something you’ll pick up in time.

For example, if you received three cards of the same suit, it might show that they’re attempting to void a suit.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a bunch of low cards, they might be trying to shoot the moon. Their first few players will provide you with even more information on what they’re attempting to do.

Void Clubs/Diamonds Fast

Clubs and diamonds are worth nothing in this game, so you want to eliminate them. These suits are an opportunity to dump your unwanted high cards.

You can also use these suits to throw out any hearts and try to stick them on other players.

Playing Hearts With 3 Players

Hearts is ideally played with four people, but it can actually be played with anywhere from three to seven people. The rules always stay the same, but some of the cards are different.

If you have three players, you’ll deal 17 cards to each player instead of 13. You’ll notice that you’ll have cards left over. In this case, they’re called the kitty and will be placed in the center of the table facedown.

The winner of the first trick takes the kitty. The chances are it won’t be worth anything, but it could be a heart or the Black Maria, thus creating an element of chaos.

Note that the last card dealt in the three-person game should belong to the dealer. This rule was implemented in case the dealer accidentally sees the card while dealing.

If the kitty is the two of clubs, move to the player with the next lowest club, not in the kitty. You should also remove the two diamonds from the deck to leave 51 cards.

So, how does shuffling work in the three-person game? There are several variations you can try for passing, including:

  • Left, right, hold, repeat
  • Pass two cards to all other players (used when passing four instead of three cards)
  •  Left, right, repeat 

How you shuffle isn’t that important. All you’re doing is ensuring that the way the cards are dealt is as random as humanly possible.

Alternative Hearts Card Game Rules

Hearts is such a malleable game that it has led to numerous variations popping up since it was initially introduced in the 18th century. If you want to switch things up a little, try some of these variations on the classic method of how to play Hearts.


Cancellation Hearts

Cancellation Hearts is a game for six to 10 players, so it’s perfect for parties and family gatherings. You’ll be using two standard 52-card decks for this game. Shuffle both decks together to create a mega fat deck.

Deal the cards as far as they can go. Everyone should have the same number. Any leftover cards are placed in the kitty facedown. They will be given to whoever wins the initial trick.

The player to the dealer's left always leads out, and they’re allowed to lead with anything. If two identical cards are played in any one trick, both cards are cancelled out. However, they can award points if they’re a Black Maria or a heart.

The trick is eventually taken by whoever puts down the highest card in the leading suit, as long as it hasn’t been duplicated. If all the cards are canceled out, the trick stays on the table, and the same player leads with a new card. In this case, the winner of the next trick gets both sets of cards. If it was the game's last trick, the trick's previous winner gets the cards.

Cancellation Hearts is an excellent way of potentially lumping someone with an unexpected collection of hearts.


Spot Hearts

Spot Hearts is a game of Hearts where the card's value determines the penalty value attached to each card. Rather than each heart being worth one point, every heart is worth whatever its number is.

For example, the jack of hearts is worth 11 points and the ace of hearts 14, with the Black Maria worth a whopping 25 points.

You can also denote every face card being worth ten and every ace worth 15. It depends on how you want to play.

Due to the higher values involved, most Spot Hearts players will play until someone reaches 500 points to keep the game going.

Note that all other rules of Hearts stay the same.


Two-Player Hearts

Believe it or not, you can also play Hearts with two people. Two-Player Hearts involves removing all odd numbers from the deck, plus jacks and kings. This leaves 13 cards to be dealt to each player.

Now you can play Hearts using the conventional rules detailed above.


Omnibus Hearts

Omnibus Hearts brings in the ten of diamonds as an important card. If you win a trick containing the ten of diamonds, you get to deduct ten points from your overall score. It also changes the requirements of shooting the moon because now you need to win all the hearts, the Black Maria, and the ten of diamonds.

Since hitting that moon is more complicated, successful players get the option of adding 26 points to everyone else’s score or taking away 36 points from their own.


Reverse Hearts

You can play the game of Reverse Hearts with partners (your partner will be sitting directly across from you). You gain one point for each heart taken and 13 points for taking the queen of spades. The jack of diamonds is a penalty card that will lose you ten points if you take it.

The point of the game is to be the first partnership to reach 100 points. You want to score points in this game variation to claim victory.

Moreover, you can also shoot the moon in reverse. If someone takes all the hearts and the Black Maria, that team loses 26 points.

There’s also no reason why you cannot play Reverse Hearts without teams. Playing individually can also be a great way to spend an evening.

Master the Game of Hearts with Arkadium

Hearts is a fun game with countless variations and strategies to employ. It’s simple enough for everyone to be able to pick it up fast, yet complex enough to keep family and friends playing again and again.

Becoming a card master requires practice. You’re not going to become the dominant force in your household overnight. If you want to improve your card-playing skills, try playing some fun online games.

Browse the Arkadium selection of free games and keep checking back for our new additions.

Category: Card Games