Basic "Hearts" is designed for four players, and in such case, a standard deck is used minus the jokers. For three players, the 2 of diamonds is removed from the deck, and for five players, the 2 of diamonds and 2 of clubs are removed.
All the cards are dealt so each player has an equal number. Under some game rules, players pass three cards they do not want to another player. Typically on the first hand, they are passed to the left; on the second hand they are passed to the right; on the third hand they are passed across the table. The fourth hand does not allow passing of cards.
When passing among five players, the rules must be different because passing across the table is not possible. Alternately, the three cards may be placed in a pile, reshuffled by the dealer, and dealt again.
Object of the Game of Hearts
Scoring the fewest points is the objective of each player. Cards are played with the highest card of the leading suit taking each trick, because there is no trump suit. Any trick that has a heart or the Queen of Spades (the bitch) gives the winner points. Each heart contained in a trick counts as one point against the winner, and if the Queen of Spades is in a trick, the penalty is 13 points.
There are 26 penalty points in a game, and if one player reaches 100 points, the game ends and the player with the fewest points wins. Some play with a predetermined number of hands and the winner is declared after they have been played.
Playing the Game of Hearts
Under most forms of play, the player who has the 2 of clubs leads off by playing that card. If it has been removed to adjust for the number of players, the 3 of clubs is used instead. The player who wins a trick gets to lead off the next round.
"Breaking Hearts" means playing the first heart of the game. Under some rules, hearts are not to be played until a player must do so by discarding on the lead of another suit, or leading with a heart because that is the only suit in their hand.
Shooting the Moon in Hearts
The complete opposite of trying not to get any penalty cards is called "Shooting the Moon." This is a risky undertaking because if even one penalty point goes to another player, all the penalty points gotten will be added to the player's score who "shot the moon." A successful attempt at this strategy places 26 points on the other players' scores while the winner's score stays unchanged.
There are many variations of shooting the moon as well as scoring variations in Hearts. It is always best to understand what rules a game goes by before starting one with new players.
Strategy in the game of Hearts is mainly focused on the Queen of Spades because of how much it is worth. If a player is "Shooting the Moon" for example, another player might consider taking the Queen of Spades (13 points) rather than allowing it to go to the other player and risking 26 points instead if that player ends up successful in their "moon" attempt.
When passing, most players will retain their low spades as they may be required to help protect a player holding the Queen of Spades. This gives the player flexibility in unloading the Queen at the most opportune time.
It is generally considered a mistake to pass spades unless the Queen is passed in combination with the king and/or the ace. Some will pass off diamonds or clubs in hopes of having an opportunity to rid one's hand of a penalty card, but this strategy is not always successful depending on what cards are passed prior to the start of the game.
Passing and game strategies vary depending on player experience and skill, and of course on what cards are originally dealt and then passed. Much of what strategy will work has to do with so many other game variables, making it impossible to predict but also adding to the excitement of the game.