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Hearts strategy guide

From YPPedia

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Not everyone puzzles the same way.
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People play Hearts for a variety of reasons. Some may wish to play high-risk, high-gain games, while others may be more interested in making a steady yet profitable number of Pieces of Eight over time. Some may play to gain standings or experience, or even just for enjoyment. While There is no one magic strategy to help players achieve all of these goals, all of the strategies and ideas detailed below provide a good starting point for players who are looking to develop their own approach to Hearts.

Contents

Passing

The pass is an important part of the hearts game. While there is no universally accepted good way to pass, a player may wish to take a few things into account when considering their pass:

  1. Pass away high cards (Aces, Kings, Queens and so forth). Ideally, this should provide cover for other high cards in your hand which could not be passed.
  2. Cover your pass. It's often important, against good players, to make sure that your pass contains a low heart (specifically, a heart you know you can beat). That helps to stop a player from an easy moon-shot when they pass themselves out of low hearts (since they will eventually need to either lead the low heart or surrender it).
  3. Pass to void a suit if possible. Running yourself out of a suit on the pass enables you to get an early advantage when discarding cards. Clubs are slightly less valuable to pass out of (since you cannot dump a scoring card on the first trick) but if you can pass yourself down to one club you will be in good shape. Passing out of hearts increases your chances of shooting the moon, especially against weaker players who are less likely to pass you a covering heart. Sometimes the importance of voiding a suit or two may outweigh that of passing high cards. A player may wish to keep an Ace and a King of diamonds, for example, if it means they can void the hearts suit by passing a 7.
  4. Passing the two of clubs to another player will enable you to dump a higher club on the first trick.
  5. Track your passes. At the start of every hand with a pass, you know where three of the cards in the deck are in addition to your hand. Use that to your advantage, especially in spades if you pass the queen or other high spades.

Avoiding tricks

One basic strategy in Hearts is to avoid taking tricks, as taking them increases the chance of taking heart cards or the queen of spades. However this approach rules out the possibility of shooting the moon, and also that of stopping other players shooting, which is quite a big limitation. A better strategy would be to avoid taking more than a few heart cards per hand. Since other players will be taking the queen of spades for the majority of the rounds, a few hearts are insignificant. However, they may accumulate with long games.

Getting rid of high cards

Another simple approach is to play the queen of spades whenever it is not possible to follow suit in a trick, and then follow up by playing the next most dangerous cards in the hand whenever it is not possible to follow suit. That way, you will have more low cards than high cards in your hand. When you can follow suit in a trick, you should play the highest card you have that will not win the trick unless you have last play and it does not matter. When leading, during the first two rounds it is more advantageous to play your highest cards of a suit than your lowest. Ideally, you want to play your highest cards first and towards the last remaining cards, only have low cards in your hand.

This strategy is a greedy one, as it optimises the short-term consequences but not the long-term ones. For instance, it may be strategic sometimes to target (or aim at) a specific player with the queen. This could be a player who is near to losing the game, someone with a low score, or even just a player that is deemed to play well. Holding onto the queen in order to target another player is a risky move, but can sometimes improve a situation long-term. If the player holding the queen can void a suit instead of throwing the queen, then that will improve the chances of being able to give the queen away on a subsequent turn.

Keeping the queen

Another strategy is to keep the queen of spades, but only if you have at least three other spades. Controlling the queen of spades can allow you to let someone else capture it, relieving you of its 13 points, but this can backfire if someone leads with a spade and you only have a few spades in your hand including the queen. So, if you do not have at least 4 spades in your hand including the queen, then pass it.

Additionally, if someone is taking a lot of hearts, and has taken the queen, it may be wise to intentionally capture a heart yourself. This will prevent someone from shooting the moon. As long as at least two players have won tricks containing hearts or the queen, no one can shoot the moon.

Players who keep the queen, intent on giving it away later, may feign shooting the moon in the hope that another will take a heart card as bait. Once the bait is taken, the player holding the queen of spades should have relatively low cards left and/or may be void in one suit. When they have the opportunity, they can give away the queen to any player they choose known as (aiming), leaving themselves in a position where they can easily avoid taking any further tricks. Skilled players may only end up taking a couple of hearts in this way - enough to prevent another player shooting, and few enough not to outweigh the importance of giving the queen away.

Co-operating with other players

In Hearts players may work together against each other. During a hand, for example, one player might try to "shoot the moon" while the other three co-operate in order to prevent him. Also, players may try to give the person with the lowest point total the queen to diminish their lead; someone who is currently leading may want to give a person approaching the point limit the queen to hasten the end of the game.

Over the course of a whole game, who co-operates and who gets ganged up on will depend on the betting system chosen. The table-setter determines whether the winner receives the entire pot ('winner takes all') or whether the pot is shared by the three lowest-scoring players in proportion to the number of points they have ('proportionate take').

In a winner takes all match, it makes sense for three players to gang up on the player with the lowest score. But in a proportionate take match, it might profit three players to gang up on the player with the highest score, forcing him out while the other three have relatively low score and high expected payouts.

There tend to be more proportionate take tables than winner takes all ones, and the stakes tend to be higher at proportionate take tables. You can make a fair return on Hearts, without ever winning a game, by playing proportionate take games and simply avoiding getting too close to the score limit. (Playing to come second by picking on the weakest player doesn't sound like an honourable path to riches, but what kind of pirate are you if you let that worry you, eh?)

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