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Setting up the Hearts Card Game
Hearts uses a standard 52 card playing deck. Ideally, it's a card game for 4 people, though it's possible to play with 3 to 6.
In a 4 person game, each player receives 13 cards. For games of other sizes, the most important factor is that all players receive the same number of cards to start with. For games of 3, 5, or 6 players, this means removing cards (normally 2s) to make the deck evenly divisible. For a 3 player game, 1 card needs to be removed; for a 5 player game, 2 cards; and for a 6 player game, remove all of the 2s or add in the 2 jokers.
In the above variations, the cards can either be removed from the game entirely, or can be set aside to be given to whichever player wins the first trick.
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Hearts Card Game Rules: The Basics
Hearts is a series of "tricks," made up of each player placing one card. The play moves from the first player clockwise. After all players have placed, the highest value card of the correct suit "wins" and the person who played it takes the trick. The person who won the trick then plays the first card of the next trick. The first trick in the game is started by whoever has the 2 of clubs.
Whatever card is played first in the trick indicates the suit for that trick. If a player has any cards of that suit, those must be played. Thus, if the person who starts the trick plays the seven of diamonds, all of the other players must play diamond cards as well. If a player does not have a card of the correct suit, he or she substitutes a card of any other suit.
The only exception to this is that in the first round, hearts cannot be played into the first trick if any alternative cards exist in the player's hand.
Play continues with trick after trick until all of the players have exhausted their hands. After all cards have been played, the round is scored. Then the deck is shuffled and dealt out again. Rounds continue until a pre-determined number of rounds have been played, or until the unfortunate loser of the game has hit a pre-determined score.
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Shooting the Moon: Scoring
The object of the Hearts card game is to have the lowest score possible. In the game, each card in the hearts suit is worth 1 point, and the Queen of Spades is worth 13. Players gain points by taking tricks that include hearts or the Queen of Spades. Most of the time, the object of the game is to find a way to ensure that the other players get all of the hearts and the unlucky lady.
There is one important exception to this: Shooting the moon. A player shoots the moon when he or she acquires all 13 of the hearts cards, plus the Queen of Spades. If this happens, his or her score remains the same and everyone else is hit with a 26 point penalty. This is a difficult and risky move, however, so doesn't happen often.
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To Pass or Not to Pass?
A variant so common in Hearts that it must be mentioned is passing. After a round has been dealt and the players have a chance to review their cards, but before the first trick is played, some versions of the game require the players to pick a set number of cards (usually 3) and pass them to another player.
The number of cards to be passed can vary.
Who the cards are passed to can also vary. The most common variant is for a four round, four player game, the first round cards are passed to the left, the second cards are passed across, and the third cards are passed to the right. In the fourth round cards are not passed at all.
Passing is common, but not necessary - just do what seems most fun for all of the players.