Advanced Strategies

The following section addresses more advanced strategies that can be employed.

Annoying Passes

Having mastered the basic passes which will help you stay low, build void suits, get out of trouble, or help you shoot the moon, you can move onto developing passes which will irritate, annoy, and beshrew the poor recipient of your cards. Here are some nasty passes that come one-by-one, two-by-two, or three-by-three.


The following singles are pretty annoying:


The basic approach is to pair or couple a set of cards which amplify the annoying effects of each other. The following are examples of such troublesome twosomes:


The triples are just adding greater injury to the doubles described above

Got Queen Trouble? Bleed out the Spades!

"Bleeding out spades" means that you are trying to draw all the spades out of the other players and take them out of play. You would most want to employ this tactic when you are holding the Queen and not many other spades besides.

Consider the following situation: It's the second trick in the round (i.e. only the first clubs trick has gone around -- spades haven't been led yet), you have the lead, and you hold only the 3, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of spades. Obviously, you won't be able to survive a spades siege for very long. Moreover, it won't take long before you have to start laying down your King and Ace, at which point it will be fairly obvious that you're holding the Queen. What, then, do you do?

Answer: Don't try to hide the fact that you're holding the Queen at all. Consider the numbers: You are holding 5 spades, meaning there are 8 more "out there" amongst the other players. Since players don't normally pass spades, they tend to be more evenly distributed than other suits after the pass. On balance then, you can count on each player having somewhere between two to four spades. The strategy then, is to bleed spades out of the other players before the others can play them to bleed the Queen out of you.

Therefore, lead out with the Ace. You might get a few stares and grins, but it'll be worth it. You should take three spades, leaving only 5 more "out there" amongst the other players. Lead next with the King. You'll probably take three more spades leaving only 2 spades out there. Next, lead with the Jack. Let's say that this time you only take one spade with the Jack, leaving only one last spade "out there". Lead finally with the 3, and presto, there are no more spades. At this point, you can simply hold onto the Queen, bide your time, work on building another void, and take tricks as high as you want. (Because you know nobody can give you the Queen.)

As an added bonus, if you keep following and leading high, you'll be able to get rid of your ugly high cards. You might even convince the other players that you're trying to shoot the moon, which could even discourage them from playing hearts on you, and maybe try to take the lead away. In the meantime, you can watch the other players squirm as they wonder: "How much longer..." and "Will I be the one?" When the time comes, be sure to drop the Queen on the most deserving player.

The situation described above could fail if one player is holding more than four spades. It is, however, not as likely that the spades suit would be so unevenly divided, especially considering that you are already holding five. Remember, the high degree of randomness means that we deal with probabilities, not absolutes. Building on the situation above, it would be easier still to bleed spades out of people if you were holding the 10 as well.

Furthermore, it is very important that you build at least one void suit as quickly as possible so that you have a place where you can dump the Queen. It is likewise important in such a situation to get rid of any trouble cards as quickly as possible so that you don't end up taking the lead during the last stages of the round, because you wouldn't be able to easily lose the lead. Should that occur, you will eventually have to play the Queen end up taking her yourself!

Three Against One

Hearts is dazzlingly fun when the three losers attempt to gang up on the guy in the lead. Hit-men coalitions of three players are not organized at the beginning of a game; They don't share secret handshakes or decoder rings. Rather, such coalitions are formed an un-formed on an ad hoc basis as scores rise and different players take turns being the winner. The formation of a three-man coalition is usually an unspoken agreement made by the three current losers, although it isn't unheard of for one of the losers (usually the guy who's trailing by the most points) to make an announcement in the form of "We've got to get Brian, guys."

Sometimes you don't get the cooperation of all three players in ganging up on the guy in the lead. If the second-in-place guy is only behind the winner by half a dozen points, he might be more content to just sit back and "draft" behind the winner, letting him take all the heat from the other losers. Right up until the last stages of the game, of course, at which point he'll pull a dramatic move where he drops the Queen on the current winner and move into first place. Then when it's too late, he'll drop points on one of the other losers, cause them to bust, and win the game himself.

If three against one odds doesn't sound very fair to you, it's probably because you're the guy in the lead.

Contractual Passes

A well-crafted pass between two experienced players can communicate more than a whole evening of table talk. The state of the scorecard is an enormous factor here as it often is the skeleton key to the message in the pass. Typically, a contractual pass is exchanged between two losing players who want to stick it to the player who is currently winning. This tactic comes under the umbrella of "the losers ganging up on the winner" as described in the previous section. As a general rule, any contract with lasting terms becomes null and void should you become the player in the lead. You can however, count on the losers at that point making contracts to gang up on you.

The following are examples of contractual passes and their meanings:

The Queen of Spades and Two other Spades

The state of the scorecard is thus: Both you and the player you are passing to are losing, and somebody else is winning, probably by a lot. Basically what you are saying with this pass is:

"I really want to aim the Evil Wench at the guy in the lead, but I don't have enough spades to hold out under any kind of serious siege. I therefore agree to give you control of the Queen, as well as a generous spades buffer, which I hope that combined with any spades you posses, will keep you safe until you can stick the Queen to the player who most richly deserves it. In return, I humbly request that you not stick it on me, especially if I get passed an Ace or King which I am compelled to play in a spades trick because they are the only ones I've got, having passed you all my other spades."

Here's what you're assuming when you make this pass:

  1. The fellow you are passing to is rather experienced, and as such, has not passed any of his spades. (Especially if you're passing to the guy on your left and he knows that you know that it's really not bright to pass the Queen to the left.)
  2. He wants to win just as bad as you do, and as such, would not be so foolish as to dump the Queen on another losing player.

All the Materials you Need to Shoot the Moon

Naturally, these materials can come in a variety of forms, but is typically indicated with something to the effect of: Three high hearts (typically including the Ace, King, and the like); Or, a couple of high hearts (once again, likely the Ace and King), and the Queen of Spades. The state of the scorecard is thus: The fellow you are passing to is losing by a lot (say, in the mid to high eighties), the other two losers are somewhere in the middle (around say, 40's or 50's), and the guy in the lead is skunking everyone (at around 20 or 30). Moreover, the guy in the lead has been consistently dropping points on the guy in last place, in the hopes of pushing him over a hundred and quickly finishing as the winner.

This is basically what you're saying:

"I willfully encourage you to shoot the moon and will assist you fully in the endeavor, by not sheriffing you. I recognize that I will take 26 points myself, but I do this hoping to level out the scores and breathe new life into this game. In return, I request that you remember me in the future, and keep sticking it to the guy in the lead, and not to me."

Here's what you're assuming with this pass:

  1. The guy in the lead will continue to wantonly dump points onto the fellow you have passed to (the passee) thinking to push him over a hundred, but this will turn on the winner's own head as it will enable the passee to shoot successfully. Furthermore, we're hoping that the winner won't realize what's going on until it's too late.
  2. The other guy that's got points in the 40's or 50's will also support the passee in shooting the moon, that the game be not over.
  3. You really hope that the passee has figured out that you might be up to something like this, and is already preparing to shoot the moon, and furthermore that he knows a thing or two about shooting.

If all goes according to plan, you will have one, well-prepared shooter, two people supporting him, and only one guy (the player currently in the lead) trying to stop him. As you can see, you're hoping for a lot with this one, giving up a lot (you will take 26 points if it works), and because of those reasons, coupled with the fact that the circumstances described are not altogether common, this kind of contractual pass is not common.

Counting Cards

Counting the cards will help you more than any single other strategy. Not coincidentally, counting cards is also one of the most difficult things to keep track of. Typically, the player with the best memory will be the one that wins the most.

The following are a few approaches to counting:

How Many Times a Suit Has Gone Around

This is one of the easiest ways to count, as you are not keeping track of the number of cards but just the number of tricks of a complete suit. Since the numbers are smaller, it can be a lot simpler. Furthermore, if you want to find the number of actual cards in a suit that have been played, simply multiply the number of tricks by four and there you have it.

On the Lookout for Stoppers

If you're trying to shoot the moon, you want to be on the lookout to see if any cards come out that would put a halt to your moon shoot. Once you see the stoppers have been played, you know your toppers can't be beat, and you can proceed more confidently with your moon shoot.

How Many Cards in a Suit Have Been Played

This counting tactic is a little more involved, as you are keeping track of larger numbers. Most people can only feasibly keep track of one suit.

The most common suits to keep track of are:

When you are keeping track of the number of cards in a suit that have been played, it can sometimes be helpful to think of the game being between yourself and a nameless, faceless "out there" consisting of the rest of the players. When the number left "out there" starts getting low, however (i.e. when one or more players go void and begin sloughing off other cards), then it becomes important to start paying attention to just who is void in that particular suit, and who is not. Your second priority then, will be to pay attention to what cards are being sloughed off by those that are void.

Exactly Which Cards Have Been Played

This is Rainman stuff. Most people can't do this without a cheat sheet. The heck of it is though, if you can count the number of cards that have been played, and keep on the lookout for stoppers, you don't really need to keep track of every single other card that's been played. If you can pull it off, though, more power to you.