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The Game of Hearts, Ricketts House Variant

The game of Hearts is a reasonably common trick-based card game. A description of what I assume is its most common form is given here or elsewhere.

Here I will describe the primary variant with which I am accustomed. I refer to it as the Ricketts House Variant after the Caltech undergraduate house where I learned it.


Reliably four.


Standard 52-card deck with the jokers removed. Decreasing order of card value is (Ace,King,Queen,Jack,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2).

Deal and Lead:

Deal begins arbitrarily, and proceeds to the left (clockwise). The player to the left of the dealer leads. The "2 of Clubs" lead that many are used to is not used here.


After the deal, the players look at their cards and may then pass three cards to another player. The sequence of passes rotates between Left, Right, Across, Scatter, and Hold every five hands.


The player to the left of the dealer leads any permitted card (see below). Play continues clockwise, and each player must follow suit if possible. If following suit is impossible, then any card may be sloughed. Once each player has played a card, the trick is taken. The player of the highest-valued card in the suit of the first card on the trick wins it and collects the cards. Leading hearts is not permitted (as above) if hearts are not 'broken'. Hearts are broken if and only if the Queen of Spades or any heart has been played. Any lead that does not violate this last rule is always permitted. Of course, a player could hold only hearts at some point when hearts are not broken. Then they are allowed to lead hearts.


Points are accumulated from hand to hand. They are only evaluated at that point. Normally, for each heart collected by a player in any of their tricks they take one point. If they took the Queen of Spades, then they take another 13 points. The exception to this is when they take all 13 hearts and the Queen of Spades. Then instead of taking 26 points they "Shoot the Moon" (see below). If, at the end of score evaluation, they are at a "wrap point", then they wrap to 0 points (see below). At this point, each player's score is checked to see if the game is over (see below).

Shooting the Moon:

Upon taking all 13 hearts and the Queen of Spades in a single hand, the player typically stays at their score, and each of the other players takes 26 points. If this would cause the game to end and the shooting player to lose, then that player will instead lose 26 points and all others will remain constant.


Generally the wrap points are at 104 and 126 points. That means that once points have been assessed for a given hand, any player that is at one of these scores immediately jumps to a score of 0.

Is the game over?

This takes place only after points for a hand have been assessed and any wraps resolved. If any player has strictly greater than 100 points and there is no tie for the lowest score, then the game is over. The player with the lowest score wins, and all others lose. There is no glory in coming in second in this game. If the condition is not met, then the game isn't over and another hand is played.


These modifications on the above can be combined:

69 for 5:

Any player who remains at exactly 69 points for 5 hands is declared the winner, overruling any winner by any other definition. Typically the same is declared true for staying at 5 for 69 hands. If multiple players simultaneously satisfy this victory condition, they are all winners. In practice, though, the first condition is extremely difficult if the other players are on the ball, and the second condition is all but impossible.

Warren Rules:

This variant is named after our late president, Warren G. Harding, although it is not clear that he ever played Hearts. This was invented mainly for spice. A 53rd card is shuffled in from the beginning. One could use a Joker, but this was originally done with a Warren G. Harding (link broken -alan) trading card.

Whoever gets the Warren card also receives the extra card. The player may look at the extra card, but do not take it into their hand. On any occasion that they are to play a card, and if the extra card would be a valid play, then the Warren card may be played. The extra card's suit is declared to the other players, but not his value. At the end of the trick, the extra card is revealed and play continues as if the extra card had been played all along. Note that one can pass Warren like any other card, and that the extra card is then transferred to the new owner of Warren.

Interesting Historical Examples:

My Hand is Forced

The most unbalanced hand of which I have ever heard was played by Leah Warner. She had the lead, and after the pass managed to have 12 hearts, including the 2 and the Ace, and the King of Spades.

Since hearts were, of course, not broken, she was forced to play the King of Spades. If the person with the Ace of Spades didn't throw it, then she would take the trick. She could then lead the Ace of Hearts, drawing the free heart, and then claim the rest of the tricks. Then she would shoot.

If the person with the Ace of Spades had thrown it, then they would have taken the trick. In order for her to take another trick, someone would have to already taken a point (in this case). Since she then couldn't shoot, she would duck or slough, keeping the 2 of hearts so she could be sure to duck the loose heart. Then she would take no points.

As it happenned, no one dropped the Ace of Spades on the first trick, so she claimed and shot. Although this sounds like a textbook example because of its excessive nature (extremely odd distribution), it actually happenned. Hearts tends to have somewhat skewed distributions after the pass, and I expect that a player passed her three hearts while she voided herself of any diamonds and clubs, but I'm not sure of that.

Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

In one game, the players were trying less to win than to play interestingly, and over the course of several hours they each had high scores. During one hand, two of them both managed to wrap on the same hand. Soon after, the other two had managed to wrap while the first pair were still at 0. This left all four players with a score of 0. It had been come full circle to the opening state. They declared the game null.
If anything in this page is confusing, tell me(email broken -alan) and I'll try to clear it up. The same goes for errors or suggestions.


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