By Joe Andrews, author of "The Complete Win At Hearts"
Other columns by Joe Andrews:
LIVE' HEARTS TOURNAMENTS - A BRIEF HISTORY
The traditional card game of Hearts is more than 250 years old. Many of us learned this game when we were children. It has become an Internet favorite. While it does not have the number of players that play Spades, Poker and Euchre, there are tens of thousands of devotees who still enjoy the camaraderie and competition of Hearts. Leagues and Clubs abound, and many sites, including Safe Harbor Games, offer "on line" rooms for Hearts players. Organized live Hearts events are few and far between. Of course, there are many families who play this classic at home, and this game is very popular on college campuses and in the military.
And of course, there are plenty of Hearts APS out there!
The New England Hearts Players' Association was launched (by yours truly) in the fall of 1971 at Boston University. From a modest turnout of 12 players at the first tournament, the size of the events grew to an average of more than 80 players during that school year. Boston is a college town, and it was rather easy to attract students who enjoyed the game. The entry fee was only $3.00, and a three-game format, plus playoffs, was offered. At first, small trophies were awarded. As the series grew, more events were added, and a Tournament of Champions was offered as the last event of the season. During the next few years, attendance (per event) averaged more than 150 participants. In 1975, a charity series called 'Hearts for Hearts' was added, and proceeds from several designated tournaments were donated to the American Heart Association. More than $10,000 was raised in four years -- a tidy sum for those days! The Boston Globe, Games Magazine, and Popular Bridge Magazine featured full-length articles about the events and the players. The high-water mark was reached in late 1979, with a 250-player tournament that was held at the Prudential Center in Boston. In 1980, I relocated to another area, and the Hearts tournaments were disbanded. Smaller events were resumed on a local basis in the mid-1990s; however, the big turnouts of the old days never materialized.
The Chicago Hearts Players League was founded in the early 1980s. Dedicated players such as Gardner Coughlin and Tom Walter worked very diligently to promote Hearts in the northern IL area. After a few years, the "core" group had grown to more than 50 individuals. Four tournaments were scheduled each year, with a Grand Championship held in Joliet, IL -- usually in mid-February -- and as close to St. Valentine�s Day as possible! Unlike the New England Series, which had gaudy numbers and new players most of the time, the Chicago players became regulars and returned year after year. I had the pleasure of attending a few of their tournaments, and I was impressed with the level of the competition, as well as the directing of the events. And this series is STILL running! If you live in the greater Chicago area, and want to play in one of their live events, please check out the Chicago Hearts League.
FYI, the largest live Hearts event was the famous Las Vegas 1999 Nationals, which were sponsored by the MSN Zone, and The United States Playing Card Company. One hundred and forty-four Hearts players competed for more than $ 20,000 in cash prizes. (More than 200 persons played in the Spades Section!) Hearts was part of the Grand Prix World Series of card games until 2011. Today, "live" Hearts games are limited to families, local clubs, and the occasional fund raiser. It has become so much more convenient to sit in a cozy chair in front of your computer, and enjoy many good board and card games on the Internet!
Many years ago, at one of the New England live events, tournament player Orin Johnson performed superbly in a tournament finals. He was dealt a rotten hand, which I present here. (The pass was to the left; the first hand of the game.)
Spades - NONE, Hearts - Q 10 9, Diamonds - A K Q 10 9 7, Clubs - A K J 6
Pretty awful, eh? The Spades void was a killer, and the other three suits offered no relief. Because he held two dreadful (minor) suits, Orin decided to unload his weak Heart suit and hope for the best. Sure enough, he was passed a middle Heart and the A-Q of Spades. Now his hand looked like this:
Spades - A Q, Hearts - J, Diamonds - A K Q 10 9 7, Clubs - A K J 6
At first glance, this hand has 22 points written all over it! If Orin grabbed the first Club lead, and started the Diamonds, hoping for a Heart discard, any of his opponents would grab the Hearts Jack. Now a shift to a Spade or Club would bury Orin alive for a boatload of points! However, if an unwary opponent could be "squeezed" and led to believe that a Moon was in the works, he might go astray with the discards toward the end of the hand.
The opponents were seasoned players, and there was no way that anyone would duck the Jack of Hearts! Here's a fun puzzle for you to ponder. Although the cause looks pretty bleak, what is the only reasonable chance (assuming normal distribution of the suits) for Orin to escape from his hand with minimal damage? And what is the best-case scenario? Thus, there are two answers. Note: the Jack of Hearts will be taken by one of the opponents. The Deuce of Clubs has been led from the player to Orin's left. The Queen and 10 of Clubs appear. Now what?
(The actual line of play, as it occurred, was most unusual, and creative.) Orin played the six of clubs on the first trick, as everyone followed and the Club Queen appeared. A Spades shift was taken by the Ace. Now the Diamonds were run (the Jack of Diamonds fell on the second diamond trick, and the King of Spades was discarded. ). The Clubs were then cashed out. The hand was reduced to the Spade Queen and the Jack of Hearts. The Jack was now led, and the player who won this trick (with the King), had the the deuce of Hearts left for the last trick. This was won by a middle Heart, and Orin escaped with seven points , as he dumped the Spade Queen on the last trick!