The rules are simple: this game is also known as Black Bess, or more poetically, Slippery Bitch (Thanks Fruan!).

Firstly, each of four players recieves thirteen cards. They exchange three of these cards with another player (either to the left, to the right, across the table or, sometimes, not at all, depending on how many games have been played).

The player with the two of clubs plays that card to start. Each player much follow suit if they can (ie: if the lead card is a club, and they have a club, they must play a club), but if they do not they may play any card (including hearts or Black Bess, the Queen of Spades).

The player who wins the trick gets one point for each heart, and a large number of points (often around fifteen) for Black Bess. He may then play any card to start the next trick, except he cannot lead with a heart if hearts have not been 'broken', meaning no-one has already played a point-scoring card.

The scores are totalled up at the end. Should any one player recieve all point scoring cards, he has 'shot the moon' and won the trick by losing: he gets no points, and every other player gains the total number of points (thirteen plus 'Black Bess').

The eventual winner is the person with the least points when either:

  • Someone reaches a predetermined number of points.
  • The time available for playing the game is up
  • Everyone gets bored and walks away.

Hearts is a trick-taking card game best played with four players. If three or five play, one may even the deck by removing the ♣2 and/or ♦2, or placing the remaining cards in the middle after each deal, to be taken by the player who takes the first trick.

The object of the game is to not take any hearts in tricks. Before each hand, all players ante. If one players takes all thirteen hearts, the pot stands. Otherwise, whoever took no hearts takes the pot, splitting it evenly if two people did so.

Such is the traditional method of playing Hearts, although the game today is known by its modern variants. In these games, the object is take as few points as possible, with each heart being counted as one point. Games are typically played to a point limit; when a player goes over a certain number of points, the player with the lowest score is considered the winner. One may also play to a time limit or for money. When playing for money, at the end of the night all players' scores are averaged, with players putting into the pot a set amount per point they have over the average, or taking out that amount for each point under.

Black Lady (usually just called "Hearts")

In Black Lady, the Queen of Spades (also called Black Lady, Black Mariah or a number of other colorful names) counts thirteen points for the person taking it. If a player takes all thirteen hearts and the ♠Q, they have "shot the moon," and have the choice of either adding 26 to everyone else's score, or subtracting 26 from their own.

Omnibus Hearts (aka New York Hearts, aka Hearts)

In Omnibus Hearts, the same rules as in Black Lady apply, but the ♦10 (sometimes the ♦J) counts -10 points for the taker. To shoot the moon, one must take all the hearts the ♠Q, and the ♦10.

Cancellation Hearts

Hearts for six or more people, uses two decks. Cards may be removed to make an even number. In Cancellation Hearts, if identical cards are played on a trick, they cancel each other out, and neither one is able to win the trick. If all cards played cancel out, then they are left on the table. The person with the lead retains it, and the cards are taken by the person who takes the next trick.

The original form of hearts referred to in dogwalker's writeup is actually called Reverse, and was a common during the 18thcentury. Here are some expanded rules common to all versions:

  • Deal - Starting to the left of the dealer, the cards are dealt one at a time in a clockwise manner. The deal is passed clockwise after each hand.
  • Trade - (optional) At the beginning of a hand each player passes three cards to another player. The direction varies with each hand. The order, starting with the first hand, is clockwise, counter-clockwise, across, and no trade. When there is an odd number of players, the across turn is skipped.
  • Opening Lead - Either the player to the left of the dealer, or the player with the ♣ 2 (or lowest if the 2 has been removed) leads the first trick. When playing with the lowest ♣ rule, that card must be lead.
  • Subsequent Lead - The player that took the last trick may lead any card they wish, unless playing with the broken hearts rule. The suit of the lead card is the lead suit.
  • Following Suit - If a player has at least one card of the lead suit, they must play that suit. There is a stiff penalty (Revoke) for not following this rule discussed below.
  • Taking the Trick - The player laying the highest card in the lead suit takes the trick.
  • Breaking Suit - (optional) Also Breaking Hearts. No player may lead a (or the ♠ Q in Black Lady) unless the suit has been broken. To break the suit, one player may discard a ♥ (♠ Q) on a trick when they can no longer follow suit.
  • Score - At the end of each had all the players points are counted and added to a running total. Each ♥ is worth one point, when playing Black Lady the ♠ Q is 13, and in Omnibus the ♦ J / ♦ 10 is -10.
    • Shooting the Moon - If one player takes all the points, they have the choice of either subtracting 13/26/36 (depending on the variation being played) from their score, or adding the points to all other player's scores.
    • Winning - Once one player reaches 100 points, the person with the lowest score wins.
    • Reverse - Scoring for reverse is different than the other variations. Before each deal, all players put an equal ante into a pool. After the hand, all players that are clear (have taken no points) divide the pool equally. If no-one is clear (all players have been painted) or one player shoots the moon, the pool is jack and remains on the table. Play ends when the players run out of money and are unable to ante, just like in poker.
  • Irregularities - When a player makes a mistake or tries to cheat.
    • Misdeal - If the dealer exposes a card, or deals unevenly (one hand has too many cards) a player may call a misdeal, but only before the first trick is played. The cards are then returned to the deck and the deal is passed to the next dealer.
    • Incorrect Hand - If after the first trick is played an uneven hand is discovered, the hand with the extra card after the last complete trick is played gets all remaining cards. If there is more than one large hand, the points in the extra cards are given to all such hands. Personally I find this rule unfair, since it is the dealers fault, and I usually throw out the hand.
    • Out of Turn - Any player that has not yet played may demand that the offending card be removed. An out of turn card cannot be removed by the offending player without a demand from another player.
    • Revoke - An ugly little rule, it states that if a person is caught not following suit, they are given the points for all of the ♥ (and the ♠ Q, but not the ♦ J / ♦ 10) for that hand.

Sources: Hoyle's Rules of Games - Second Revised Edition; Edited by Albert H. Morehead and Geoffrey Mott-Smith; ISBN 0-452-26416-2

Coming across this node reminded me of the days when I was much more deeply invested in this game. It's truly a brutal and ruthless game at heart, pun intended, and as a teen I found its strategy and cutthroatedness appealing, at a much faster pace than chess and more conducive to my smaller groups of friends. It greatly improved my ability to count cards and anticipate, but ultimately I decided I didn't have a mind rapidly mathematical enough to be able to play competitively at a higher level. So the hobby fell by the wayside, in conjunction with my friends.

A large part of the appeal to the game was, for me, the jargon I created for it. I had an entire lingo system I used for moments and scenarios in the game, which gave it a kind of quirky exclusivity. Predictably, me and my chronic obsession with lists and all, I decided to write them down one day. I found the list recently and transcribe it here for all to carry on a strange and unnecessary tradition.

Pool, or 'Pool In'
To push an opponent into making a play. Usually a bad play, or else a play that benefits you somehow.

Being on the receiving end of a pool.

To intentionally play a specific card, usually the Queen of Spades, on a trick you know an opponent will take, so as to "give" or "dish" them your card.

Press the issue
Continuing to play spades as you lead tricks in an attempt to pool an opponent into playing (and often taking) the queen of spades. An aggressive strategy, but usually used more preventatively, and not the way you would usually approach an Assassin Run.

To ditch an attempt to shoot the moon.

When nobody else on the table can mathematically take a trick away from you for the remainder of the tricks in the round (usually used when successfully shooting the moon).

When you possess only black cards to play.

I See Red
When you possess only red cards to play.

When you possess only one suit of cards to play.

When you possess two suits of cards to play, usually different colors.

Blind shot
Leading with the Queen of Spades on a trick where you know the another player's only play for the trick is either the King or Ace of spades.

Tanking, or Tanking a Shot
Intentionally taking a trick to interrupt another player's bid to shoot the moon.

Assassin run
A round where you try to dish as many points as possible to one specific opponent, without shooting the moon. Usually ran in situations where there is only one opponent you need to catch up with in points. Most classically approached by keeping the queen of spades and attempting to dish it to the opponent.

Protection run
A round where a secondary objective to keeping your own point intake low is making sure another specific player doesn't take too many points, usually for fear that the player will reach over 100 points and end the game while you're not in first place.

Shot run
A round where you attempt to shoot the moon.

Shot bid
A hand with which you're considering trying to shoot the moon.

Death Row
The Queen of Spades, King of Spades, and Ace of Spades, generally used when the three are traded at the start of a round.

Agh, just think of how epic that blowjob would've been
A phrase acceptable and totally appropriate in any situation where you barely miss any arbitrary objective in a game of hearts.

To intentionally pool one specific opponent into taking heavy points quickly in attempt to finish a game as soon as possible.

Break hearts over your head
Breaking hearts on someone else's take.

A set of 4 cards that a player took from the trick.
*(This one a source of debate and derision, I've often been corrected of the distinction between a 'trick' and what I call a 'take'. I don't need to hear it again.)

A round where hearts aren't broken until very late into the round (typically not until there are 5 hands or less to play).

(take a) 25
Taking 25 points in a round, mathematically the worst individual round possible.

Starting a round with no hearts in your hand.

Playing hearts off-suit continuously and indiscriminately, dealing points to players on every trick.

Take yo' beating
(Sightly obnoxious) expression for someone who's taking a lot of successive points late in the round.

To fail a pool, especially in an assassin run.

Similar to running, except it's off your turn and it doesn't matter which order you play the rest of your cards in, because they're all basically the same play. For example, a hand with the 7,8,9,10 of clubs is a 'falling' hand, because there isn't any strategy you can use in the order of cards you play, and the order in which you play them until the end of the round is irrelevant.

etch-e-sketch hands
A series of rounds where a nonsubstantial amount of hearts were taken, but the queen was avoided. Usually used flippantly by someone with a comfortable lead.

Under (expression: "we're under")
After points have been distributed to more than one player, through a tank, luck, or other circumstance, indicating that nobody will shoot the moon in the round and that it's "safe".

Set hand
Every fourth hand you're dealt, on which you are not allowed to trade cards with any other player, in traditional rules.

Being relatively early in a game, in terms of the points system

Being in the later stages of a game, in terms of the points system

In a trade, anyone who passes you the only club in your hand, and the Ace or King of spades. Because really, fuck that person.

To reiterate, this is not in any way universal knowledge, and is my own arbitrary system of nomenclature. But hey - if you read something that makes sense and sticks, feel free to have as much fun as I did.


Oh yeah.

Hearts is also an album by America released on Warner Brothers in March of 1975. It's considered the last of their 4 classic records, succeeding America, Homecoming, and Holiday chronologically respectively. It was the last LP to have tracks featured on their immensely popular compilation album, History: America's Greatest Hits. Its lead single, and to many its only significant song yielded was the Jackson Browne-inspired Billboard #1 hit Sister Golden Hair.


01. Daisy Jane
02. Half a Man
03. Midnight
04. Bell Tree
05. Old Virginia
06. People in the Valley
07. Company
08. Woman Tonight
09. The Story of a Teenager
10. Sister Golden Hair
11. Tomorrow
12. Seasons

I once bought a copy of History at a flea market when I was 19. Or, should I say, I bought a copy of the sleeve for History that contained a copy of Hearts. I haven't had the heart to throw it away yet, but it truly is a milquetoast 1970s American soft rock album if ever there was such a thing.

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