Einstein once said: "A system should be as simple as possible, but no simpler." Hearts is such a game, and its simplicity is its real beauty.
A regular deck is dealt out completely to four players, such that each player has thirteen cards. At the beginning of each round, each player may pass three undesirable cards to the left, across on the second hand, to the right on the third hand, and on the fourth hand no cards are passed in what is called a "holding hand". The first trick is led off by whoever holds the two of clubs and proceeds clockwise around the table with each player following suit, unless a player holds no cards in a suit, in which case he may "slough" cards from any other suit. The trick is taken by whoever plays the highest card who may then lead whatever he would like, except for hearts which must first be "broken" by being sloughed onto another player. Points are kept for each round: each heart being worth one point and the Queen of spades being worth thirteen. If a player takes all the point cards, he gets zero points for the hand and all other players get twenty-six. The game is over when one or more players break one hundred points, and the player with the low score wins.
As mentioned earlier, the simplicity of the rules is the real beauty of the game. Within such an environment, players can devise all types of strategies from the wild to the sublime. A phenomenon that regularly occurs amongst players is that strategies become circular. One player will develop a style, the other players will catch onto it and try to trip him up, he'll switch tactics, it will trip everyone else up --at least until they figure out his new approach, and the cycle will begin again. Figuring out who's doing what, where you are currently in the cycle, and what you can do to keep ahead of the curve is a large part of the fun.
Another one of the things that makes Hearts so interesting is its high degree of randomness. This means that beginning players can often fare better against experienced players than they could in a totally non-random game like chess. Having a table full of experienced players, however, tends to impose a certain order on the randomness. Because of this high random factor, we deal more with probabilities than absolutes when we lay out strategies.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the game is all the table politics that occur: The bluffs, the comments, the threats, the challenges, the vendettas, the petty squabbles, the backbiting... All of these add a dimension of light-heartedness and joviality to the game. A good game of Hearts, after all, should be an enjoyable social affair.
On a philosophical note, Hearts is a lot like life. At times it seems that you don't get dealt a fair hand, but sometimes you can dump your problems onto other people. Being the person in the lead often means having to deal with other people's problems. You can't get a high return unless you're willing to take some risk. You can survive by your wits, but you'll prosper with a little luck. Women are nothing but trouble... The list goes on and on.
But enough philosophizing, let's get on to the more serious business of figuring out how to win.
In an entire round of play, there are essentially four questions which a player will encounter:
The Terminology secttion which follows gives some terms and their definitions.
In the One Liners section, some fundamental tips are given, which provide answers to the four questions previously posed.
In the Strategy Styles section later on, each of those four questions will be addressed according to how they pertain to a particular style of play (or role).
Finally, the Advanced Tactics section delves into some of the higher mysteries.