The usual number of Hearts players is four (three, five, and six may also play, but we won’t consider those variants here). It’s every man (or woman) for himself. Hearts uses the standard 52-card pack. The cards in each suit rank from the ace (the highest) to the 2 (the lowest). There are no trumps.
The deal rotates clockwise, as does the play of the cards. The entire pack is dealt, one card at a time. Players may discard three cards by passing them to the player on their left. (You must pass these cards before you can look at the ones you’ll be receiving.) The player with the 2 of clubs opens the game. In Hoyle Card Games, passing can rotate or be dispensed with, and the player to the dealer’s left can open.
Whichever card is led first, the other players must try to follow suit. A trick is won by the highest card in the suit led. The winner of a trick makes the next lead.
The object of play is to avoid taking hearts in tricks, as each heart counts as one point against the player taking it. The queen of spades (the Black Lady or Black Maria) counts as 13. However, you could try to take all the hearts and the Black Lady. This is called Shooting the Moon, and, if you pull it off, you hand your opponents a whopping 26 points each.
Hearts cannot be led until they’ve been broken, that is, thrown into a previous trick by a player who couldn’t follow suit. When a player equals or breaks 100 points, the game is over, and the player with the lowest score at that time is the winner.
The queen of spades rules the game of Hearts. To ignore the queen is to court humiliation and risk defeat. Consideration of the queen should begin before play starts, during the passing phase. Any high spades (Q, K, A) are dangerous if they are not protected by several lower spades.
However, it can be fatal to be short on low cards in a particular suit, especially later in the game. Using the last example, say a few hands have passed, and you still have the 8, 10, queen, and king of clubs. After the ace and 9 are played, you happily throw down your queen, and the top player takes the trick with the ace.
However, the player to your right threw down the jack of clubs. You now have the three highest clubs (8, 10, K). What happens after that could be destructive. Players will be running out of clubs, and next time someone leads in clubs, they’ll paint you with hearts or stick you with the queen of spades.
Guarded high-cards should be saved until later in the game, especially if they are hearts. This will help to prevent someone from successfully Shooting the Moon. If the player who receives your discards likes to Shoot the Moon, you may wish to pass them a low heart. This may discourage them from making the attempt in the first place.