How to Play Hearts Card Game: History and Rules of Hearts

hearts game blog picture
March 21, 2021

The game of hearts is one of the most popular card games and we would recommend it over and over to players who require a high strategy game that is yet simple to understand. The Hearts card game is an all-time classic that requires only four players to play individually. However, you can play hearts online if you don’t have other people to play with.

If you are new to the game and have little to zero experience, and you are looking to learn how to play the hearts card game, then this guide is just for you. In this guide, you will learn the following:

  • How to play hearts game 
  • The history of hearts game
  • How to play hearts card game versus playing hearts card game online
  • Hearts rules 
  • Hearts game variations

The History of Hearts

The history of the modern-day game of hearts can be traced to the Spanish game of Reversis back in the 18th century. Reversis includes similar elements as those found in Today’s hearts game for example; penalty points for acquired tricks and extra points for special cards like the Queen of Hearts.

By 1850, new rules were added and some modifications were made for example Hearts became the penalty card while the Queen of Spades was named the specialty card.

David Parlett, a renowned card games scholar stated that the game of hearts was sighted in America around the 1880s. With time the game became quite popular among grade students, towards the end of the 20th-century users began to play hearts card games online. 

The Windows operating system uploaded a digital version of the game on their software making it even more popular as more people began to play hearts online.

The Setup

The standard deck of 52 cards is used, the deck is shuffled. A dealer is appointed just as the game is about to start. All players draw a card from the deck and the player with the lowest card becomes the dealer. The dealer then shuffles the deck and passes 13 cards to each player in a clockwise manner. 

The objective of the game is to have the lowest score at the end of the game. The game ends when any player hits the number initially agreed upon or beyond.


Scoring is done by counting the number of acquired hearts after every hand. At the end of each hand, players count the number of hearts and queen of spades they have acquired. Each heart is equivalent to one point and the queen’s 13 points.

The aggregate total of all scores for each hand must be a multiple of 26. The game is usually played to 50 or 100 points, depending on the number agreed on before the game began.

If a player acquires all 13 hearts and the queen of spades in a single hand, the player “shoots the moon” and instead of 26 points, the player scores zero and each of his opponent scores an extra 26 points.

hearts card game play

How to Play Hearts Card Game

The player holding the 2 clubs plays first, however, in a 3-handed game the two clubs are removed and the player with the 3 clubs plays first.

The players continue by playing clubs, and when a player runs out of clubs he discards a card of a different suit. However, if a player does not have any clubs when the initial trick is led he can neither discard a heart nor a queen of spades. The highest card of the leading suit wins a trick and the player who won that trick is automatically the next leader; there is no trump suit.

The new leader who won the trick receives it and places it face down. a heart or queen of spades must be discarded before a heart can be led, but the situation is different for the queen of spades. There is no need to wait till a queen is discarded, the queen can be led at any time.

Rules for Hearts

The hearts game unlike other card games is very easy to learn, hence its rules are also plain and simple; the rules are valid for hearts online and offline. Some of the hearts rules you should know to include the following:

  1. The player with the lowest score wins.
  2. On every hand, avoid winning any tricks including a heart or queen of spades (the black maria)
  3. Win all 13 hearts and the black Maria to get a zero score.
  4. The Black maria has a fixed value of 13 points.
  5. A player is said to “shoot the moon” if he has all the hearts and black maria in hand; this implies that 26 points will be subtracted from their score.
  6. The game ends when a player reaches an initially agreed score which could be 50 or 100.

card game


There are several variations of the heart game with slightly different rules, scoring methods, and modes of play.

Variations Passing

Some variations of the game allow players to pass. Passing happens at the start of the game before the lead card is played; this makes the game more complex thus provoking players to come up with better strategies.

In a variation where passing is allowed, players would be given a chance to choose three cards they would like to discard before every hand and pass them to the next player. On the first hand, players will pass the cards they wish to discard to the player to their left, while they pass the cards to the right during the second hand, cards are passed to the left in the left hand again. However, no passing occurs during the fourth hand. Most players would discard their cards with the highest value first to increase their chances of winning.

Two-player hearts

Usually, the average number of hearts card game players is 4. But if two people decide to play, they will have to alter the deck. In two-player hearts the following cards are removed from the deck: 3’s, 5’s, 7’s, 9’s, Jack’s, and Kings.  Thus, each player is dealt 13 cards. Aside from these all general hearts rules remain the same.

card in human hand

Omnibus hearts

The omnibus heart makes use of the 10 of Diamonds, so if a player wins a trick including the 10 of diamonds, 10 points are subtracted from their score. Similarly, shooting the moon in omnibus hearts also requires 10 diamonds. This means that a player must acquire all hearts, the queen of spades, and the 10 of diamonds to “shoot the moon”. 

Unlike the regular hearts game, in omnibus hearts,  if a player shoots the moon he gets to choose between a subtraction of 36 points from his score or an addition of 26 points to his opponents’ score.

Cancellation hearts

This variation is ideal if there is a large number of players, from 5 to 11. Two standard decks are used in cancellation hearts, this the need for cancellation since there is double of every card. If a pair of cards are played, they automatically cancel themselves out and the card with the next highest value wins the trick.

In a situation where two pairs of cards are played, the player loses the trick and the cards are given to the winner of the next trick.

A popular strategy in cancellation of hearts is to pair up the queen of spades, when this happens 26 points are added to the initial score of whoever wins the trick.

Typically, in a game of cancellation hearts, the cards are dealt like this:

  • 5 players: 1 joker is added (the joker leads the game) and 21 cards are dealt with each player.
  • 6 players: a 2 of clubs and a 2 of diamonds are removed. 17 cards are dealt with each player and the other 2 of clubs lead the game.
  • 7 players: A joker is added (and also leads the game) and each player is dealt 15 cards.
  • 8 players: A joker is added (which al ad o leads) and a 2 of clubs is removed. Each player is dealt 13 cards.
  • 9 players:  a 2 of clubs (which also leads), both 2’s of diamonds and spades are removed and 11 cards are dealt to each player.
  • 10 players: a 2 of clubs (which also leads), both 2’s of diamonds and spades are removed and 10 cards are dealt to each player.
  • 11 players: a 2 of clubs (which also leads), both 2’s of diamonds and spades are removed and 9 cards are dealt to each player.


Here each player is dealt 12 cards, and four cards are dealt to a kitty lying face down. The kitty’s cards are added to the tricks of the first player to take a penalty card. The kitty can also be used whenever there are more or less than four players and cards can’t be dealt evenly.

Partnership hearts

In partnership hearts, players for two teams of two people. The total number of penalty points earned in a trick equals the team’s score. A situation where one team gets all 14 penalty cards in a single hand is called a slam. The team can choose to give their opponents 26 points or subtract 26 points from their score.

An individual player must first win all the penalty cards to “shoot the moon”. The game ends when an individual player’s score reaches 50 or 100 depending on the initial number agreed on before the game began.

The partnership with the least points wins, so your team can win the game even though your score was above 100.

Turbo hearts

Turbo hearts is an American adaptation of the Gong Zhu game invented by Richard Garfield in the 1980s. This variation makes use of the jack of diamonds and any player that takes the 10 of clubs will have their score for that hand doubled. At the beginning of the game, each player may turbo-charge any of the following cards: 10 of clubs, Ace of Hearts, Queen of Spades, or Jack of Diamonds.  A turbo-charged Jack of diamonds or Queen of Spades doubles the value of the card for that hand while a turbo-charged Ace of hearts doubles the value of all the hearts for that hand. The 10 of clubs quadruples the score for that hand.

Spot hearts

Spot hearts is a heart game variation where the real value of the cards is equivalent to their penalty values. For example, the penalty value of a card numbered 2 is 2, the penalty value of a card numbered 3 is 3, and so on. The jack of hearts is equal to 11 penalty points, queens are 12, kings are 13, aces are 14, Ace of hearts is 15, and the queen of spades 25.

This is a variation in which the penalty value of the hearts is their pip-value. That is the two the 2 penalty points, the three 3, the four 4, etc. The jack of hearts carries 11 penalty points, queen 12, king 13, ace 14, and the queen of spades 25.

The scores are higher in spot hearts therefore a target score of 100 won’t do, a higher target like 500 will suffice.

Black maria

Black maria is the British variation of hearts, it is known to some as “dirty lady” or “slippery bitch”. The game is often played by three players, sometimes four. In the 3-player variant, the 2 of clubs are removed and 17 cards are dealt to each player. And in the 4-player variant, all the cards are dealt out.

In Black Maria there are usually 3 players; the 2 clubs are removed from the pack and 17 cards are dealt to each player. Black Maria can also be played by four people, in which case all the cards are dealt out.


As a beginner, whether you decide to play hearts card game online or offline, your first line of action is to learn how to play hearts card game properly. However, if you have already done so by reading this guide then you have taken the first step in the right direction. 

More so, the hearts card game is just like other card games that have a couple of rules, and learning the guiding rules for hearts is crucial to becoming a pro in no time.

So play the card game as many times as possible at your leisure to ace the game and be a master.

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