Hearts Play Strategies
Knowing what to play on the first trick is easy. If you have the two of clubs, you must lead it. As you cannot slough any points on the first trick, use this opportunity to get rid of a high club, if you are void in clubs, slough another high card, perhaps a king or ace of spades - two cards that could lead to trouble later if they are not sufficiently backed up.
Many players go right into leading spades. This is done in order to force the queen out, and it is considered the safest lead possible. The worst that can happen is the trick could draw a heart or two. This is something that the holder of a shallow queen of spades will dread. Her best strategy is then to seize the lead, if possible, and divert her opponents by leading back diamonds or clubs. An alternative strategy is to come back with high diamonds or clubs in order to draw a heart. Once the heart is broken she can dish out a low heart which can cause a heart war that might create a distraction from her precarious spade position, and for a shallow queen of spades, any distraction is a good distraction.
This heart war may occur because of a common tactic when playing the heart suit. When a player must take a trick, he should do so with as high a card as possible. This leaves him with the opportunity to dish out a low card in the same suit, getting rid of the lead and forcing another player to take several points. This can create a vicious cycle, especially where hearts are involved.
Of course, playing low and avoiding the queen are paramount, but this does not mean that a player should avoid points altogether. Taking a few points in every hand is generally a good idea because it prevents any other player from running. The best way to stop other players from running is to save a high heart and not slough it until at least two people have points. Holding back a stopper to prevent a run is only good sense, especially if you are sure your opponents have a middling heart losers (which you may well have passed at least one of them).
In games with sharp players, a successful run is infrequent. This is because a table of sharp players will generally pass a middling heart and orient their own hand in such a way as to prevent the run by their opponents while minimizing their own exposure to points, especially the queen of spades. But there will be times when the cards align to almost make a run seem inevitable. The best configuration for a run will be when no heart losers are held or only the very highest hearts in sequence. Ace, king and queen of hearts is nice, but trying to run with the king, queen, jack is a dangerous maneuver.
If such a run were to be attempted, the running player should try to draw the ace before making his intention to run perfectly obvious. Otherwise, the ace will be a sure stopper. If a player has a mere middling heart loser, another strategy is to lead high in clubs or diamonds until a heart has been drawn and then lead back the middling heart. If the opponents are not sure of his intentions they might let the trick slide and put the prospective runner in a good position to run.
Hearts is as much a game of personalities and bluffing as is poker. It requires skill and intuition to determine how opponents will react to certain styles of play. For example, a player who tries and fails to run frequently will be watched so closely in subsequent play that his prospects of any deceptive plays become impossible. Also, inexperienced players tend to shy away from running, so they usually need not be played closely. This means that when passing to such a player, you do not have to worry so much about making certain they have a middling heart or that by passing them three low hearts you are sending a clear signal of your intention to run.
There are so many possibilities of different hands that it is impossible to make provision or comment on every circumstance. The key to remember is that Hearts is only a game. Play it well, but play it to have fun.