Hearts is played with a regular deck of 52 cards. The first dealer is chosen by a random draw of one card by each player. The person drawing the highest card wins the deal. For some weird reason, this will usually be Mom, and everyone else, especially Dad, will already be pissed.
The dealer gives each player 13 cards. If the youngest child is dealing, he may occasionally drop a few cards on the floor in the process, thereby requiring several re-deals. The other players put their heads down on the table and wish they were somewhere else.
Each player looks at his cards, curses, then chooses three of them and passes those cards face down to the player on his left. Each player then looks at the cards the person on his right has given him and curses again.
The player who holds the two of clubs plays it first. The other players must then each also play a club. If they do not have a club, they can play any other card except a heart or the queen of spades. If the youngest child plays a heart or the queen of spades because he forgot the rules, the other players all scream at him.
The person who plays the highest club wins the “trick.” The winner of the trick then plays the first card of the next trick, which can be any card except a heart. If the winner of the first trick is the youngest child, everyone screams at him to remind him that he cannot lead with a heart.
The other players must then play a card of the same suit. If they don’t have one, they can play any other card. If the youngest child does that, someone, usually Dad, says, “Are you sure you can’t follow suit? Really? Look at your cards again.” Dad also says this if Mom does it, to which Mom then responds, “Do you think that I’m stupid, or that I’m cheating?” The children laugh nervously and wonder where they will live if their parents divorce.
The highest card of the led suit played wins the trick. The object of the game is to win as few tricks as possible in which hearts or the queen of spades have been played – or else to win all of those tricks, which is known as “shooting the moon,” and if Mom does that again tonight, Dad is going to quit and never play this goddamned game anymore.
Unless you shoot the moon, every heart you have won counts one point against you. If you have won the queen of spades, it counts 13 points against you and makes you wish you had been born into a different family that didn’t play Hearts.
If you do shoot the moon, this is a great thrill. You receive zero points, and all the other players each get 26 points and hate you for the rest of the night, or sometimes for the rest of your life.
The game is usually played to 100 points or to when one of the players – usually the youngest child, but sometimes also Dad, especially if he’s been drinking – is so mad that he just gets up from the table and storms out of the room.
At the end of the game, the player with the lowest score wins, and the other players all feel like crap. Again, weirdly, the winner is usually Mom, who is normally such a sweet person but is a cold, merciless bitch when it comes to playing Hearts.
If the youngest child somehow manages to win, he will be incredibly happy, even though the oldest child will most likely beat the shit out of him when the game is finished. If the oldest child wins, no one will really mind, including the youngest child, who somehow still loves the oldest one despite the fact that he constantly beats the shit out of him.
Finally, if Dad wins – which isn’t likely, God knows, but miracles do happen – he might just splurge and buy that big flat-screen TV that everyone wants. So, just consider that long and hard before you even think about giving him the queen of spades.