The following guidelines do not describe any kind of comprehensive approach or master game plan, rather, they offer tidbits of dimestore wisdom that can be helpful to know as you are picking up the game. Styles of play are described in the next section. As with all other rules, every one of these has its exception so don't get too excited when you see words like "Never" "Always" and "Thou Shalt" in the headings (because you will doubtless see some guidelines that contradict others).

If You Have to Take a Trick, Take it High

Pretty self-explanatory, really. If someone leads a trick with the two of hearts, the other players follow with the 3 and 4, and all you're holding is the 5 and the Ace of hearts, take it with the Ace (since you're going to take the trick anyway). Then, lead back with the 5 since at that point, no one will be able to get under it. As an added bonus, you now have a void hearts suit (more on voids in later sections).

Pay Attention to the Pass

What another player passed you can tell you a lot about what they're doing.

If you get passed a bunch of low hearts, the passer is probably trying to shoot the moon. You will probably want to play a Sheriff style this hand.

If you get passed a whole bunch of cards in one suit, the passer is probably building a void. You probably don't want to play high in that suit, especially if you suspect that the person who passed to you may be holding the Queen.

Never Pass Spades

The Name is Hearts, but the real objective is to not take the QS. The winner of a Hearts game is usually the player who has taken the Queen the least. If the rules were changed such that hearts were worth no points, the game would probably still be played largely the same way.

The only spades people usually pass are the Queen, (because she's worth 13 points and holding her can be trouble) and the King and the Ace (because those are the only spades that can take the Queen). There is, however, a problem with passing these all the time.

Consider the following situation: You have just been dealt your hand and are about to pass left. You have 3 clubs, 2 diamonds, 3 spades, and 5 hearts. The spades you are holding are the 4, King and Ace. Your first, knee-jerk reaction might be to pass the King and Ace, but wait -- what if someone passes you the Queen? You're going to wish you had the King and the Ace back so that you could hold up under the inevitable spades siege which will ensue in an attempt to draw out the Queen.

Bearing that in mind, you'd better hold onto the King and Ace of spades. But then consider this problem: What if you don't get passed the Queen? Then you'd be stuck with only the 4 to buffer you before you have to play the Kin or the Ace which would likely stick you with the Queen. What then, do you do?

Here's a solution: As you were only dealt 3 clubs, pass all of them and go void in that suit. This way, if you do get passed the Queen, not only will those additional spades help to see you through the siege, but you have a void suit in clubs and can easily slough the Queen should someone be foolish enough to lead clubs. Moreover, on the first clubs hand that goes around, you can slough a diamond and begin building another void suit (more on building voids in a later section).

If, however, you don't get passed the Queen, you can slough off at least the Ace on the first clubs suit (as you will be void in clubs). Moreover, if one or more of the clubs you passed left was rather high, there's a very good chance that the player sitting to your left will take the lead, and in true amateur fashion, blithely lead spades. You will be the last person in the circle to take the trick, can safely take it with the King, and presto, you're out of trouble. As an added bonus, after those first two tricks, you will only have one spade left. Lead back with it, and double-presto, you have another void suit.

Bearing these things in mind, the strategy becomes clear: Never pass spades.

Never Pass the Ace of Hearts

It's either a great sheriff card or a great shooting card. Hold onto it.

If you do pass someone the Ace of hearts, you're either abdicating sheriffing responsibility to the passee, or encouraging them to shoot the moon. Neither one of those are especially terrific ideas.

Never Lead with an Ace

Especially not before the QS has come out. Leading with an Ace means that nobody can beat the trick. It also means that other players can easily dump some of their high cards.

The exception to the rule is if you are holding the QS. First, because you know the worst you can take is a heart or two, and second, if you're in trouble with the queen (meaning you don't have a lot of other spades besides her) you don't want to surrender the lead until you've built a void in another suit.

Take the First Heart

Often, it is a good idea to take the first trick that hearts is broken on. Doing this means that no one can shoot the moon but you.

Play as though Hearts are Worth No Points

It is especially applicable to play this way when hearts are broken before the Queen has come out. Taking a couple hearts is cheap compared with taking the Queen.

Try to Take the First Trick

Many people will play high clubs on the first hand--Even a topper. They do this because it can be very advantageous to take the lead into the second trick. The reasons being:

  1. You want to draw the Queen out as quickly as possible by leading spades --a bit amateur, to be sure, but a tried and true strategy all the same.
  2. You want to build a void in some other suit (likely diamonds) --a bit more sophisticated.
  3. You have the Queen, are in trouble because you don't have a lot of other spades besides, and don't want to give anyone else the chance to draw her out.

If you're not in much trouble (i.e. not holding the Queen or any high Spades), don't worry about taking the first trick.

High Clubs Are Deadly

Typically, four Clubs are played on the first trick (unless someone sloughs on the first trick). This means that there are only 9 Clubs left that could be played for the rest of the round. Moreover, people usually get rid of high clubs on the first trick, meaning that there will not be many high clubs left for the rest of the round. The coupling of these two points means that if you play any high club--or even a mid-range club--you will probably take a club trick and very likey, someone else will be void in clubs--Not a good position to be in.

The 2 of Clubs Is Evil

The two of clubs is a real stinker because you have to lead it into the first trick, you can't take the lead for the second trick, and you can't get rid of any high clubs on the first trick. As such, the two is often passed.

The problem is compounded when you consider that you want to hold onto a high club so you can take the first trick. If you're not holding the two, there's a good chance that you might have it passed to you, and then you'll be stuck with that high club! So take my advice and get rid of that deuce.

There is one exception to this though: don't pass the 2C to the left. See below for details.

Never Pass the Queen to the Left

This is incredibly dangerous because you are not in any kind of position to dump ugly spades like the King or the Ace, which you may get passed to you. Here's how it works: The only way to safely dispose of an Ace or King before the Queen comes out is to be the last person in the rotation to play. Chances are good that if the person to your left is holding the Queen, he's not going to lead spades. Contrapositively, there's a very good chance that the players sitting either across from you or to your right will lead spades, and may draw out your Ace or King before the Queen appears, allowing the player to your left to happily dump it on you.

Ideally, what you would like to do, is have the person on your left leading tricks as often as possible, leaving you as the last in the rotation. Being the last in the rotation means that you've seen everything that's been played, and you can either safely get under the highest card in a point trick and avoid taking those points, or take a point-free trick safely with your highest card, thereby getting rid of your uglies. The strategy then is to pass the guy on your left lots of high cards so that he will have to take the lead as often as possible.

Remember, however, that if you're playing with experienced players, they might all try to do the same, and what you'll end up with is a scenario where trick-leading proceeds around the table counter-clockwise.

Always Pass the Queen to the Right

Pass the Queen of spades to your right every time you can, and don't worry about holding either the King or Ace of spades, or any other high cards for that matter. Chances are real good that either the player sitting to your right or the one sitting across from you will lead spades and you can safely play either the King or Ace after the trick goes past the player to your right. In fact, once any trick has gone past the guy on your right, you can play as high a card as you want and know that you won't get hit with the Evil One. If the Queen gets drawn out or sloughed off, you should have plenty of low cards left to get under it.

An added bonus to this tactic is that throwing out high cards (especially high spades) before the trick has gone all the way around will lead other players to believe that you're holding the Queen --and possibly that you're in trouble. This, in turn, might encourage them to either draw out the Queen and / or take the lead with high cards, which will ultimately only help you. The safest place for the Queen to be sitting is in the hand of the guy on your right, and for you to know about it.

Always Pass the Ace of Clubs to the Left

Remember, you want to have the person on your left leading tricks as often as possible so you can be the last of the four to play; this is advantageous because you can see what everyone else has played before you play, and you will probably be able to safely play your high cards. To that end, you want to pass the player on your left the Ace of clubs whenever it gets dealt to you. As mentioned earlier, people often play their highest clubs on the first trick, and people often want to take the first trick, so passing them the Ace means that they will very likely take the first trick and lead into the second. The only time this could be problematic is if they held onto the 2 of clubs.

Never Pass the Two of Clubs to the Left

Complementary to the previous point, you want the person to your left to lead into the second trick, and they're not going to be able to do that if they have to play the two. Therefore, even if it hurts, hold onto the two when you're passing left.

After the deal, pick a strategy; After the pass revise your strategy

"Play the hand your dealt" is a time-worn platitude, not only about Hearts but many other card games, as well. The idea here is that you can't always decide you're going to shoot or play sherrif, you have to see what the dealer gives you and then make your decision from the material you have to work with.

Complicating matters is that in Hearts, you not only have the deal to respond to, but the pass as well. Therefore, decide what strategy you think you should persue following the deal, select 3 cards to pass that will enhance your strategy, and then after you've received 3 cards, see if anything about them would mess up your strategy.