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In Hearts, before three out of every four hands you get to pass three cards to another player. Some people seem to always pass the Queen of Spades while others like to keep her under certain conditions. Some people like to drain themselves of a suit, while others seem to like ditching hearts as a top priority.

What strategies/considerations do you evaluate when deciding what to pass, and why? Does your decision depend on if you're passing left, right, or across?

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I had a friend who would always troll in Hearts and always attempt to shoot the moon, so he would always pass low cards to other players. He actually succeeded about 1/4 of the time. –  Joe Z. Mar 9 '13 at 15:49

7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted

My general priority for passing when attempting to avoid points is:

  • AK and usually Q of Spades. The AK are passed like a hot potato. If I'm long in lower Spades (6+) and have the Queen, I might try to keep her to foist off-suit, or when the AK turn up from someone else's hand. So, keeping the Queen is a judgement call, but absolutely nothing good can come from the Ace or King no matter how long you are; you're either lucky enough to play them last to a harmless Spade trick or off-suit, or they'll win you the Queen. In either case they can't hurt anyone else but you, and they certainly won't help you avoid points.
  • Face card Diamonds and Clubs. I might hang on to the Ace of Clubs if I don't have the 2, so I can win the first trick and choose the direction of play from there (usually either a Spade hunt or voiding Clubs/Diamonds), but other face cards in these suits typically have a similar low advantage/high risk as the high Spades.
  • Face card Hearts, if I'm short in Hearts. Again, they're dangerous, but usually playable depending on the rest of my hand.
  • Voiding Clubs or Diamonds. Except for the Ace of Clubs, if I'm very short in either or even both of these suits and have cards left to pass, I'll pass whatever I'm shortest in and try to void a suit completely. Being void in a suit early gives you a lot of power; you can start dealing out blood early, or you can play it cool and dump other harmful cards. I might even keep some otherwise dangerous cards, like face Clubs/Hearts/Diamonds, in favor of voiding a suit and playing the others off-suit early in the hand.

There are cards that you should NEVER pass if you have an avoidance strategy. Even if you're trying for a moon shot, passing certain of these is a guaranteed red flag to the passee, requiring you to pretty much guarantee that you have 10 cards that will make it happen:

  • The 2/3/4 of Hearts. As soon as someone breaks Hearts, the very next trick is the "funeral", where a low Heart is led and the person who can't undercut the rest (or sluff) gets them all. Passing a Heart lower than 7 is usually a pretty bonehead move; even if you're short in them, if your highest Heart is a 7 your bigger concern is ensuring you can choose the non-Heart tricks to win and then lose the lead on the next trick.
  • Any Spade ranked Jack or lower. Don't even try to void Spades. Just don't. If you end up lucky enough to get dealt a hand with no Spades on the no-pass hand, then thank your lucky stars and throw a middle Heart on every Spade trick you see. But with everyone at the table trying to get rid of the AKQ of Spades in passing rounds, odds are high that if you're not giving one of those, you're getting one, and will have to avoid playing it until just the right time (off-suit or when a higher Spade got smoked out). If you gave away the only low Spades that would have done that for you, you're hosed.
  • The Ace of Hearts; even if it's your only Heart, never pass it. Whoever has the Ace has the power to make or break a moon shot, and by passing it you risk giving it to someone who could shoot the moon with it. Worst-case, realistically, is eating a Heart trick with it (if you're really unlucky it can win you a Heart trick in which someone managed to sluff the Queen; that's extremely unlikely). Best case, after the Queen's been smoked out you can off it on whomever didn't get the Queen and guarantee no moon shot for anyone.
  • Your last Club. Playing off-suit to the first trick is a red flag that you're void in Clubs and will usually spoil further attempts to make use of it. If you have only one Club, and it isn't the Ace, keep it. Keep the Ace too if it's your only Club, as long as you have another card to lose the lead with.
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I try not to pass the 2 of Clubs if I have it, even if I void everything else in the clubs suit. –  Joe Z. Mar 9 '13 at 15:58
1  
Again, judgement call. The 2 of Clubs guarantees you'll lose the trick, but pretty much everything except the Ace will do the same. If you have both and it's a "pass left" hand you have a choice; pass the 2 and play last this trick to lead the next, or pass the Ace and play last next trick. I do agree with you though, the 2 of clubs is usually a keeper. –  KeithS Mar 11 '13 at 14:48

As with most strategy games, I don't think there's an optimal way to answer this. I tend to focus on what cards I want to keep. I'll address a non-Shoot-The-Moon hand because that's the majority of hands I play.

  • I like the Ace of Clubs. Having the early lead puts you in control.
  • I prefer to void Clubs or Diamonds as soon as possible.
  • I won't ever pass 2 through Jack of Spades to void the suit. That leaves you open to get passed a single high spade that might stick you with the Queen.
  • I'll hold the Queen of Spades if it's protected by several other spades and I can easily void another suit. Otherwise, I say pass it so you reduce the risk of being stuck with it. Again, it's about being in control.
  • I like holding A-2 of Diamonds. I'll pass middle Diamonds to set that up. You can usually win an early trick (before Hearts are broken) with the Ace, then lead the 2 (or similar low card) to void the suit.
  • I don't mind holding a high Heart or two. At worst it's 4-8 points, and you have a play to stop a Shoot-the-Moon by someone else.

I've never really considered where I'm passing cards. I probably should, but I'm not serious enough of a player to learn why it might matter. My main goal is flexibility. Unless I'm holding 2-5 of each suit, I'd rather not have to play follow-the-leader.

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This is a good 'stage 1' strategy. However, if you play with the same people often, this, like many card games, stops being about the gameplay and becomes more psychological. In my game group, we started by 'voiding clubs/diamonds' then we realized that everyone did this, so we were effectively nullifying passing. There's something quite satisfying in taking a round 3 'protected' queen of spades, with an Ace of spades, then 'winning' the last trick for a shoot with your J of spades against a hole Ace and King of hearts. –  Neal Tibrewala Feb 26 '11 at 4:22
  • Never try to pass away all your spades. If someone then passes you the Queen, you have a high chance of getting stuck.
  • Similarly, never pass away a bunch of low hearts. This again leaves you open to catching lots of unwanted tricks if you are passed the high ones.
  • Only pass the Queen of Spades if you don't have a bunch of other spades; having other spades makes you more likely to be able to drop the Queen (and only the Queen) at the most devastating moment.
  • If you can completely get rid of all (or all high) cards of a certain suit, do it IF that suit is Diamonds or Clubs. Don't do it otherwise.
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Assuming you're not trying to Shoot the Moon, I usually approach it from the strategy of trying to take as few tricks as possible:

  1. Can you short yourself out of a non-Spades suit? The sooner you can be out of a suit, the sooner you can be dumping high cards from other suits (or just unloading hearts in general).
  2. If you have spades, look at tossing the K&A - they're just plain dangerous.
  3. If you have the Queen of Spades, you need to decide if you're likely to be able to dump it on someone else. (If you had Q & K or A and are passing left, you can set them up as a patsy, for instance). If not, toss the sucker.
  4. If you're short on clubs, feel free to hold on to one and pass a higher card from another suit. Since you always start on clubs and you can't take points on the first hand, one club is always safe.
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What's a patsy? –  Joe Z. Feb 22 '13 at 15:01
    
@JoeZeng Another term for "unwilling participant" (or "sucker", depending on the playgroup) –  Allen Gould Feb 26 '13 at 20:50

Your card-passing strategy should also take into account the opponent you're passing your cards to. For example, if you are passing to an opponent that semi-regularly tries to shoot the moon, make sure you aren't playing into their hand. For example, don't pass them the Ace, Queen, and Jack of Hearts. Mix in a low heart or a mid-range non-heart card.

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The other answers are good but I'll also add, never pass your highest heart if it is J or higher. Otherwise, you are handing the other person a moon shot.

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Other answers good; my two cents: If you pass high hearts include a low heart too. It makes it very hard for someone to shoot the moon if you pass them the Ace and the 2 of Hearts.

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Hard but not impossible. The unspoken rule everywhere I've played is that you never pass the Ace of Hearts; you keep it to make sure that one other person, even yourself, takes some Hearts. –  KeithS Mar 9 '13 at 0:10

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