How to Gamble on Hearts (The Card Game)

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Hearts Card Suit

Hearts is a trick-taking card game that belongs to the “whist” family of card games. I learned to play hearts as a young boy, so my explanation of how to gamble for real money on the card game hearts comes from my own experience.

I played for quarters when I was really young, but we moved up to dollars when I was in college.

You might play hearts a different way. Some people do. I’m going to start by explaining how I was taught to play, then I’ll include details about common variations later in the post. I’ll also offer some strategy hints.

I should mention in these introductory remarks that hearts, while being a game of chance, is also a game of skill. Obviously, it’s still gambling if you bet on it, but if your skills are better than your opponents’, you can be playing the game with a positive outcome.

How to Play Hearts – The Basics

You use a standard 52-card deck to play hearts. Jokers aren’t usually used, although, in some variations with lots of players, the jokers are sometimes added to the deck.

The cards are ranked from high to low as follows: A, K, Q, J, then 10-2 in sequential order. These are pretty standard hand rankings for most card games.

Spades uses the same rankings, but the object of the game is the opposite of hearts.

After the cards have been shuffled and cut, the dealer deals out the entire deck, one card at a time, to the players. Each player should get the same number of cards. Hearts are typically played with 4 players, which means, each player will have 13 cards.

If you have an odd number of players, some cards will be left over. You place those face down in the middle of the table. The player who takes the 1st trick gets those cards, too, but no one gets to look at them until it’s time to take score.

Each player then chooses 3 cards from their hand to pass to the player on their left. This means you’ll give 3 of your cards to the player on your left, but you’ll also get 3 cards from the player on your right.

Keep in mind that the cards must be passed face-down. You’re not allowed to look at the cards you get through this process until after you’ve passed your 3 cards.

Your goal when passing these cards, is to get rid of cards that will negatively impact your score.

Here’s a Tip:

If you have the queen of spades, it’s almost certainly one of the 3 cards you should pass to your opponent.

You’ll sometimes see variations of hearts where your goal is to collect more points than your opponents, but that’s not really hearts in my book.

How to Play a Hand of Hearts

The player to the immediate left of the dealer goes first. They may lead with any card in their hand.

You may hear hearts referred to as “trumps” in this game, but they’re not really trump cards in the sense that spades are trumps in the game of spades.

When taking a trick, a heart has no special significance. They only become important during scoring.

After player 1 plays the 1st card, the next player must play a card of the same suit if they can. This is called “following suit.” Each player plays a card in order, and each player follows suit.

  • If you don’t have any cards of the suit that was led, you can play any card in your hand.
  • The player who plays the highest card of the lead suit wins the trick and collects those cards.
  • The player who wins the trick gets to lead the next trick, too.

In most games, the queen of spades must be played at the first legal opportunity. This, of course, has a major effect on strategy, too.

Keeping Score in a Game of Hearts

After the last trick of the hand, each player calculates his score and records it. Most games of hearts are played until one of the players has 50 or 100 points.

The cards are scored as follows:

  • Any heart = 1 point
  • The queen of spades = 13 points

There are 26 points in each hand. So, the sum of the players’ scores at the end of each hand should total 26.

At the end of the game, everyone’s scores are totaled and there’s a settlement. You take each player’s score and add them together, dividing that sum by the number of players to get an average score.

You then calculate the difference between each player’s score and the average score. You then put chips into the pot or take them out based on the positive or negative value of your score compared to the average.

If you’re gambling for real money on the card game hearts, each chip will have a dollar value. It’s customary to have a buy-in for the chips before starting to play.

For most adult players, you’ll probably want to play for at least a dollar a chip, although $5 per chip is probably more interesting.

The Queen of Spades Is No Big Deal

In some variations of hearts, the queen of spades has no special significance. It counts as 0 points. Instead of 26 total points per hand, there are 13 points.

When playing this style, no one passes cards to their left before the play of the hand.

Domino Hearts

Another style of hearts where the queen isn’t counted is “domino hearts.”

In domino hearts, each player gets 6 cards only. The rest of the cards go in the stock.

The game is played as normal, but if you can’t follow suit, you must draw a card from the stock until you’re able to follow suit.

Once the stock is gone, if you’re unable to follow suit, you must discard a card of any suit. The game continues until all the cards have been taken as tricks.

One peculiarity of domino hearts is that players will have a different number of cards in his hand. This means that over time, players will start to drop out of the game because they have no cards to play.

When you get down to 2 players, if one of the players runs out of cards, the player who’s left just adds the cards left in his hand to his tricks.


In “sweepstakes hearts,” each player puts in a single chip for each heart he took. The player who took the queen of spades also puts in 13 chips.

If a player had no hearts and also didn’t have the queen of spades they get to take the entire pot. If no one had a score of 0, the chips stay in the pot, and another hand is dealt.

The pot grows after each hand until someone finishes with 0 points and wins the pot.

You can build huge pots this way, but you may want to lower the denomination of the chips for this variation.

Auction Hearts

Auction hearts are similar to sweepstakes hearts and includes a bidding round at the start of the hand. Instead of hearts automatically being the penalty suit, the highest bidder gets to name the penalty suit.

  • The opening bidder is always the player to the left of the dealer. They can bid or pass. The next player to the left can bid higher or pass.
  • The high bidder must put the amount they bid into the pot at the beginning of the game, but also gets to decide which suit is the penalty suit.

In auction hearts, the highest bidder also gets to lead. After each hand, players put a number of chips into the pot equal to the number of penalty cards they took.

And since this is a sweepstakes hearts variation, a player with a score of 0 wins the pot. If no one was able to score 0 points, the money stays in the pot, and subsequent hands are played until someone takes the pot.

Also, there are no subsequent bidding rounds until someone wins the pot. The high bidder from the 1st hand gets to continue naming the penalty suit in each hand until the pot is won.

Strategy Session

Strategy doesn’t change much in hearts regardless of whether there’s money on the line.

Like most trick-taking games, the main aspect of strategy is keeping track of which cards have already been played. If you know what’s been played and when, you’ll have an idea of who has which cards and what you should do next.

Another important strategy is making good decisions about which card to lead with. If you have a suit where you’re short, like if you have 3 cards of a single suit, you should get rid of your higher cards 1st. This will protect you later when you might have to follow suit with one of those high cards and accidentally get stuck taking a trick you don’t want.


Playing hearts for real money is somewhat out of vogue, but if you’re looking for an interesting way to gamble at home with your buddies, you should give it a try. It makes a nice change of pace from Texas Hold’em.

If and when you start including variations like sweepstakes hearts, you can really build up some nice jackpots.

Who doesn’t like winning jackpots? Gamble on.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for since early 2016. ...

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