Super Hearts

Contributed by Jerry Schwartz (js@jps.net)

I'd like to share with you the innovations that a group of us made to hearts to make it (for us, at least) a much more enjoyable game. We were a group of programers/systems analysts/IBM field reps (they had such things in those days) working on an IBM 360 about a hundred years ago. We played "Super Hearts" during our lunch hour because the traditional game didn't satisfy us:

  • First, we felt that the Spade Queen exerted an inordinate influence on the game when valued at 13 points.
  • Second, we felt that the traditional game too often reached a condition where it was all over but the shouting (i.e., one player was far ahead and/or one player was far behind), and the winner and/or loser was all but certain. But everybody played on, just to reach the 100 points or whatever, and get the game over.
  • Third, we didn't care for the fact that one could usually fare well by doing nothing; by letting the other players protect him from someone trying to shoot the moon. Nor were we fond of the practice of "getting the low man", necessary to keep a player from retaining an early advantage. It sometimes degenerated into "get Sam, because he won Monday".
  • Finally, since we played during our lunch hour, we rarely could start and end a 100-point game. Someone was always coming in late or leaving early. Nor could we depend on the same people being available the next day to finish an interrupted game.

So here's what we did:

  1. We reduced the value of the queen to 7 points, making the total 20 points per deal.
  2. We allowed each deal to stand on its own, paid for as described below, but with no running point score total.
  3. Each player paid to the winner of each hand the difference in their point scores for that hand. Not actually, because we did tally the amounts and settled daily (or weekly, or whatever). The point is that each hand was a whole new game that you could win or lose, not influenced by the results of the prior games.
  4. The winner of a hand was the player who scored the fewest points, provided, however, that a player scoring zero points did not participate. In other words, the winner of a hand was the player who scored the smallest positive number of points. In case of a tie, the winners split the losers' payoff.

The added complexity of our game actually caught us by surprise. We soon discovered that each player had to attempt to manipulate the game in order to win, There can be numerous examples, but just for illustration:

  • A. If you have 9 points, you can still win IF you can arrange for ONE other player to get the remaining 11.
  • B. If you have 3 points and 2 other players have 8 each, you will win unless the fourth player grabs the last point.
  • C. If one player has 11 or more points, you will win if you grab ALL of the remaining points.

Obviously, the optimum is to get exactly ONE point in each game, and/or to prevent your opponents from doing exactly that. So you clearly need to be aware of the point accumulations of each player, as well as drawing all possible conclusions about suit and high-card distribution.