Hearts is a four‑handed card game played with a standard deck of 52 cards, which are ranked ace (highest) through deuce. To begin the game, the entire deck is dealt, giving each player a starting hand of 13 cards.

Before play begins, there is a pass of three downcards to a specified opponent after players look at their starting hands. All three cards must be passed at the same time, and before looking at any cards passed to you. Once every four deals there is no pass (a “hold” hand). Players pass cards to the person on the left the first deal, right the second deal, across the third deal, and hold all cards the fourth deal. Then the cycle of passing starts over again on the fifth deal.

Play begins with the player left of the dealer leading any card of choice. (There is no requirement for hearts to be broken before they are lead.) Each player must play a card of that suit if possible; a player out of that suit may discard on it. After each player has played a card, this is called a trick, and the highest card of the suit lead takes the trick. There are thirteen tricks per deal.

The object of the game is to avoid taking points in the tricks you win. Each heart taken in a trick counts 1 point, and the spade queen counts 13 points, so there are 26 points distributed each deal. If a player takes all 26 points, this is called a run; that player takes no points, and instead gains 26 points over each other player. The person taking all 26 points has the option of going down 26 points in score or putting everyone else up 26 points each. The usual choice is to go down, because a player with a score of less than zero collects points that are doubled in value at the end of the game. The game officially ends when someone reaches a score of 100 or more points, although a game can be terminated earlier by agreement.

At the end of the game, the net points for each player are calculated. A player with a lower score gains the difference in points from a player with a higher score. Each player settles with all three opponents. In this manner a player’s net win or loss is calculated, and the point total up or down at the end of a session can be determined.

To determine who deals the first hand, the players draw cards, with the high card dealing the first hand. A tie in rank of card is broken by suit, with the suits ranked as in bridge; spades (highest), hearts, diamonds, clubs. The dealer position rotates one place clockwise with each new deal. The person on the dealer’s left starts play by leading to the first trick, and thereafter the winner of each trick leads to the next. A person on lead may lead any card of any suit (no requirement for hearts to be broken before leading them). Each player must follow suit if possible. The queen of spades must be played to a trick as soon as one is legally able, provided the person playing it is assured of not winning the trick. To not play the spade queen at the first opportunity on a trick known to be taken by an opponent is a revoke, punished by the offender getting 26 points and the opponents zero for that deal.


1. PLAYERS – ‑ Hearts games are limited to four, five or six players. When four or more players cut, a game is constituted and must be played to completion unless all players agree otherwise. It is not the obligation of the players in the game to let any additional players into the game. If a dispute arises as to whether to let an additional player into the game, a vote of the current players shall be taken. A clear majority must vote in favor of the additional player being allowed to play before a game has been constituted. A vote shall be required for each player requesting to join the game. The house man is exempt from this rule, and can leave the game for a new player without the approval of any of the other players.

2. MISDEALS ‑ A hand is considered misdealt if any card is exposed while dealing. The hand must be dealt over from the start. If there is a shortage of cards after all the cards have been dealt, this is a misdeal wherever the missing cards may be.

3. LEAD OUT OF TURN ‑ A penalty of four points per team is assessed for any lead out of turn at the top of the sheet. Leads out of turn are defined as:

a. Any lead made before all players have passed.

b. Any lead (at the first trick or any trick but the last) by the wrong player, regardless of why the lead out of turn was made. (Entrapment is not an excuse).

In a partnership game, the partner of the player who leads out of turn is not penalized, and the partner of ­the player who is a recipient of the lead out of turn penalty shares in that penalty.

4. INCORRECT PASS ‑ Except for “hold” hands, three cards must be passed from every player to the correct player. The following rules govern problems with the pass:

a. CARDS EXPOSED DURING THE PASS ‑ If any cards are exposed by the player making the pass, the cards exposed must be returned, and cannot be passed. If any cards are exposed by the player receiving the pass, they are kept and subsequently treated as exposed cards. The exposed cards must be shown to all the other players after passing has been completed for that deal.

b. TOO FEW CARDS PASSED – If the player who passed an insufficient number of cards has not looked at any cards passed to him, no penalty is incurred; he may complete his pass. If the player has looked at the cards received, he must remove those cards from his hand, and the player to receive his pass picks enough cards to complete the pass. The passer is entitled to see any cards drawn.

c. TOO MANY CARDS PASSED ‑ The receiver must place the cards facedown on the table, mix them, and have the player who passed them to him pick the cards to be returned. These returned cards are exposed to the table after all the passes have been completed.

d. PASS MADE TO THE WRONG PLAYER ‑ It is the responsibility of the passer to see that the right person receives the pass. If one or more players pass to the wrong person and the person to receive the pass has looked at the cards, those cards are exposed to all the players after they have passed, and then returned to the player(s) that incorrectly passed. The cards exposed cannot be part of the pass once corrected. If all players pass incorrectly in the same manner, the pass stands, and no penalties are incurred.

5. EXPOSED CARDS ‑ Any card is considered exposed if the card was incorrectly played to a trick or exposed to one or more players. Cards played out of turn are considered exposed as are reneges corrected before penalty results. Any card considered exposed must be played at the first legal opportunity; whether following suit, discarding or leading. Failure to play an exposed card when a legal opportunity presents itself must be corrected. The actual card played is replaced by the first exposed card and the second card now becomes an exposed card.

6. CLAIMS ‑ If a claim is made in hearts they must be played from the top. If this claim is false, the claimer is charged 26 points, like a renege. If it can be proven to all players at the table that another player had a run, a false claim or renege cannot stop this run. If a claim is in any suit other than hearts, the hand must have suits played from the top in the suit-order of spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. If there is a claim for any of the last three tricks either by throwing the cards face down on the table, saying that you claim, or exposing more than one card when claiming, this player will get the remaining points.

7. CARD PLAYED OUT OF TURN ‑ If the card played out of turn is demonstrated to affect the Queen of Spades trick, then offending party will be assessed the Queen.

8. RENEGES ‑ Failure to follow suit or play the Queen on another player is considered a renege. Reneges can be legally corrected any time before the player plays a card to the next trick. The card played in error becomes an exposed card. An established renege results in the reneging player taking 26 points and all other players taking 0. Once the cards have been collected there can be no renege on the hand. A renege cannot stop a run.

9. COMPLETED TRICKS ‑ All tricks must be kept in retainable order. Failure to do so will result in the benefit of the doubt being given to the inquirer about reneges if the offending party is the accused reneger.

10. SCORING ‑ The second-lowest card of the seat selection cut is the scorekeeper unless all players agree to someone else. The scorekeeper is responsible for all negative scoring errors. When partners are the scorekeeper, the non‑playing partner cannot be affected negatively by the scoring error of his partner. If the score is found to be in error, all players are to make an honest effort to correct the error. An attempt will be made to reconstruct the hand and if three of the four players agree to what happened that will constitute the real score. On positive scoring errors that cannot be reconstructed, the amount will be split among the four players on the following basis:

1 point – Taken off the high hand.

2 points – A half-point point taken off everyone.

3 points – A half-point point taken off everyone and one point taken off the high hand. Any player who winds up in the hole will be paid double by the other players.

11. WRONG NUMBER OF CARDS ‑ If it is determined after play has started that two players have the wrong number of cards, play shall cease immediately. The two players with the wrong number of cards shall take 13 points each; the other players 0.

12. FAILURE TO ABIDE BY THE RULES – Individual games may elect to play by their own rules. Players entering these games must be informed as to the discrepancies with the standard rules. If a player is not informed of any special rules of the particular game, the standard rules are in effect. Any player that refuses to abide by these rules shall be barred from playing hearts at the club.

Anything not covered under these rules will be either:

1. Decided by a majority of the players in the game.

2. Decided by someone not in the game, agreed to by all players.

If something happens that cannot be decided under the above, the game will stop at that point and a committee will take up the issue. The committee will be made up of a person or persons chosen by the management.