Hearts Strategy - Passing
With considerable latitude in play, Hearts allows players to create and improvise strategies that can make the game exciting and fun. Obviously, it is of prime importance to avoid taking points, but it is often a better strategy to plan on taking just a few at every hand. This keeps opponents from running and delivering 26 points to your scoresheet.
What to pass from your hand during the passing phase is the first place that strategy comes into play. First, it is nearly always a mistake to pass low spades (jack or under). A low spade is usually the safest lead for any player except the one who holds the queen, thus they are handy cards to have. Also, you might be passed the queen of spades and it is always good to have this card backed up by as many other cards as possible to prevent other players from playing low spades until you have to play the queen of spades on yourself.
If you are dealt the queen of spades the decision to pass it can be excruciating. It is almost always wise to hold it if you have at least three cards behind it. It should probably be passed with two or less spades behind it. The great thing about holding it is that you know where it is and when it can be played and you can sometimes orchestrate play so that it is played on your leading opponent.
If you absolutely must pass the queen of spades, don't forget where you have passed it. You may be passed the ace or king of spades and must know when it is safe to play (behind the player with the queen once he has played a different spade).
It should be an object in passing to void yourself in either diamonds or clubs. To be void in one of these suits helps to slough hearts onto your opponents and also relieve yourself of high cards in other suits. But this is merely a broad objective. Since the player passing to you will have the same objective in mind, you are quite likely to get cards similar or worse than to those you are passing. However, if you are lucky, you will acquire an unbalanced hand with many of one suit and few or none of another.
Should you pass hearts? No, and then again yes. Generally, it is best to keep your hearts for sloughing on your opponents. It is better to be void in another suit. Yet ... there is one good reason to pass a middling heart to your opponent. If he is considering running, this will nearly always provide a "poison pill". For during play, if you hold a high heart and your opponent must play the middling heart, you hold his stopper. If you take four points as a result, it is a small price to pay to prevent a run.
Now, if you are dealt a hand full of high cards, with no hearts or the ace, king, queen of hearts you can throw all of the above advice out the window. You may be in a position to "run". In this case, you want to hord your high cards and pass your low stuff. If you have any low hearts, pass them (unless you have so many high hearts as to make them safe) so they will not act as a "poison pill". Remember, to run, you do not need all the tricks, merely all the points.
A good pass is half the battle in hearts. You can also read passes from other players as unintended signals. A player passing ace, king or queen of spades is likely short of this suit. A player passing low hearts (especially two or more) is contemplating a run. A player passing a low spade is probably a novice. A pass of low cards in general means possible run.
Passing is somewhat of an art and somewhat of a science, but, ultimately, hearts is just a game and it is well not to take it too seriously.