By Joe Andrews, author of "The Complete Win At Hearts"

Other columns by Joe Andrews:
Hearts - Planning and Strategy
Here are some basic strategies for winning at a game of 'cutthroat' (4 individuals' ) Hearts. Note ' The Jack of Diamonds bonus does not apply, and the opening lead is the Deuce of Clubs.

After the pass of three cards has been made, and the Club Deuce has been led -- you are ready to go! If you have the Spade Queen with sufficient (at least three and preferably four) "backers" (supporting Spades), you are already in good shape. You will be extracting the opponents' Spades, and cashing out winners in your side suits -- and attempting to strategically unload the Spade Queen. If you do not have the Spade Queen, then you will be pursuing a plan to drive out the evil lady! (See comment below regarding 'Low Man' strategy.)

Another good technique is taking the first played Heart -- which removes the threat of an opponent Shooting the Moon. If you do not hold the "lady," you must be prepared to watch every card, and make some logical assumptions. For example, if the player who wins the first trick does NOT play Spades, it is quite obvious that he/she has Spade problems. He may begin to strip his hand of high minor suits (Clubs/Diamonds), and then exit safely with a low card. You may rest assured that he will want to dump his Spade Queen. If he has a short Ace or King of Spades, he may try to maneuver his opponent on the left to lead into his high Spade. Your mission should be to lead low Spades repeatedly so as to smoke out the enemy Queen -- or to avoid taking the lead in a risky situation.

"Cutthroat" Hearts is a game of collusion. Temporary Partnerships are often formed for these objectives:
  1. Smoking or driving out the Spade Queen
  2. Stopping a potential Slam (Moonshot)
  3. Dumping the Spade Queen on the person who has the low score
  4. Protecting the person who has the high score (in order to prolong the game -- especially if you are in third place)
  5. Allowing a certain player to Shoot the Moon -- if the result does not hurt you -- or end the game prematurely

If you are in third place toward the end of a game, it does not make sense to pass the Spade Queen to the person in fourth place -- and then lead Spades after you take the first (or any subsequent) trick. If you must pass the Spade Queen in this situation, by all means, pass one or two "backers," and hope that your opponent receiving your pass does not panic and dump the lady on you! On the other hand, (no pun intended!), if you are in first place, you want the game to end. You will do anything to drive the last place player over the top!

Experienced players will always employ 'Low Man' strategy. The idea is to wait for the person with low score, and hopefully deposit the Spade Queen on this person. This is the epitome of teamwork.

Otherwise, the game becomes a 'duck and dump' exercise, with everyone trying to get rid of their point cards.

Remember, the object of individual (cutthroat) Hearts is to WIN! You must be able to determine who might want (or be forced) to give you help at a given moment. Always stay alert, and make an effort to count the cards!

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