Hearts strategy

In our last post, we discussed the game of Hearts. Now that you know the rules of the game, here’s some tips that might help your game.

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Choosing what to pass

In may card games, what you’re dealt is what you’re stuck with. Not so in Hearts—you have the opportunity to shape your hand somewhat by choosing to pass cards to the next player.

The gut reaction of most players is to pass the Q♠ when she has been dealt to them. This is not always the best play; sometimes, it’s easier to avoid capturing the Q♠ when you can control when she comes out. A good time to hold the queen is when you only have a few cards in some other suit—when you run out of that suit, you can play the Q♠, and you will be immune to capturing her because you did not follow suit. If you are considering holding the Q♠, make sure you have some other spades to play when some other player leads with spades—otherwise you may be trapped with only the Q♠ as a valid play.

The two spades higher than the Q♠, the K♠ and A♠, should be treated with nearly as much care as the Q♠. You do not want to be forced into playing one of these cards early in a trick and have the Q♠ come out after you. If you are short on spades, pass them.

High hearts are almost always a good option to pass, unless the spades situation is more pressing.

If you have a lot of cards of a particular suit, you might consider passing some of them on—if you’re running long, at least one of the other players is guaranteed to be running short, so they will be using tricks of that suit to unload their undesirable cards. You don’t want to be forced to lead that suit over and over again because of a lack of anything else to lead with.

Remember what you passed, and to whom. Since most of the time, you will be passing on higher, undesirable cards, knowing who holds them can be useful. In particular, if the player holding the Q♠ has already played to a trick, you know there is no way she can be played to the trick.

If you are playing the Jack of Diamonds variant, consider passing the J♦ if there is nothing more pressing to pass. The J♦ is seldom won by the player holding him, since three other cards can be played to collect him.

Play of the hand

A good portion of a winning Hearts strategy involves discovering the most opportune times to ditch cards you don’t want to get stuck with. The easiest method to ditch a card is to run out of a suit—if that suit is lead, you can burn off an undesirable card with no risk that you will end up capturing it. This is an excellent way to get rid of the Q♠ and her accomplices, the K♠ and A♠, as well as high hearts.

Being the last to play to a trick gives you the advantage of knowing what the trick contains. If you see that the trick has no point-scoring cards, you can play a high card and capture it, allowing you to both burn off a high card and choose what the next suit to play is (which might be helpful to get rid of the last few cards of your short suit). If it’s a spade trick, and the Q♠ isn’t in it, you can play the K♠ or A♠. Likewise, if someone has played a high card, you can play a slightly lower card which might cause problems on down the road (e.g. if someone plays the A♥, it’s an excellent time to get rid of the K♥).

If you don’t have the Q♠, it can be a good option to lead spades repeatedly in an attempt to force the Q♠ to show herself, hopefully sending her back to where she came from.

Naturally, keep track of whether the Q♠ has been played. If she’s out of the picture, the K♠ and A♠ are considerably less harmless, and you can ditch them with much less risk.

Keep the lower cards, like twos and threes, around unless you have a specific reason to play them. These cards can be used as exit cards, meaning you can use them in uncertain situations, like leading a trick or being the first after the lead to play, to avoid taking the trick. The 2♥ and 3♥ are particularly useful, since they let you dodge tricks that are often worth up to 4 points.

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