Sparts is a combination of the well-known card games Spades and Hearts. Both games involve following suit, taking tricks, and scoring points. When the game ends (at a predetermined number of points), the player with the most points wins!
Each player is dealt a hand of cards. You will see your hand at the bottom of the play area on your browser screen. In a standard four-person game, you will have 13 cards in hand.
The player holding the 7 of diamonds chooses whether to play Spades or Hearts for that hand only. They can make this decision based on the cards they're holding (see below for strategy tips about what makes a strong hand in each game). If you are the player making the choice, you'll see two buttons at the top of the play area asking you which game you'd like to play. Click on one to start that game.
After someone has chosen Spades, all players will have an opportunity to bid for the number of tricks they believe they can take. A trick is when all players have played their cards for that turn (see below); the player with the highest card takes the trick. The bid must be at least 2 and may be as high as the number of cards in your hand (13 for a four-person game). It's also possible to bid nil (zero), which means you think you won't take any tricks, and in fact will actively work to avoid them. You cannot bid 1. Bids are made in turn order, starting with the first player and proceeding clockwise (left) around the table.
Each player's bid is noted in the game log on the side of the page, and shown on their player area. For example, if you bid 3 you will have text that says "0 / 3" beneath your name. This indicates you've taken 0 tricks of the 3 you bid.
Playing the hand
After everyone has bid, the first player plays a card to start the trick. Each player, in order, then plays a card on the trick. You must follow suit if you can; that means if (for example) a diamond was played, you must play a diamond if you have one in your hand. If not, you can play a card of any other suit, including a spade. After each player has played their card, the highest card wins the trick (2 is low, and ace is high). The highest card is the one in the suit that was led (such as diamonds), unless there are one or more spades played on the trick. Spades are the trump suit and beat all other suits. If there are spades on the trick, the highest spade is the winner. Cards of other suits (such as clubs or hearts, in this example) do not count for anything.
When a player wins a trick, the trick counter beneath their name is automatically updated to show how many tricks they've taken in all, and how many they originally bid. If you bid 3 as above, your player area will show "1 / 3" after taking your first trick. This helps you know your progress and that of the other players.
When the first spade is played on a trick, it is called breaking spades (or breaking trump). From this point on, a spade may be the first card played on a trick. However, if spades have not been broken, they cannot be led. The only exception is if a player has only spades remaining in their hand, because obviously they have no choice but to play one.
The player who takes the trick then starts the next trick by playing a card. Play continues in this way until all the tricks have been played.
All players count the tricks they've taken during the hand, and compare that with the number they bid. If you made or exceeded your bid, you receive 10 times your bid. Any tricks above the bid count as 1 point each. For example, if you bid 3 and took 4 tricks, you'll receive 31 points: 10 x 3 bid, plus 1 overtrick or bag. A bid of nil (zero) is worth 50 points.
The number of bags is tracked, and shown in the score area on the top right of the page. After you've taken too many bags (by taking more than you bid), you will be penalized. The number of bags, and the penalty, are based on the length of the game, as follows:
- 200-point game = 4 bags or more, penalty 40 points
- 400-point game = 8 bags or more, penalty 80 points
- 800-point game = 8 bags or more, penalty 80 points
Thus, it's important to bid as accurately as possible, and once you've made your bid you will often want to "slough" cards so you don't take any more tricks.
If you do not make your bid, you lose 10 times your bid. For instance, if you've bid 3 and only took 2, you'll be penalized 30 points: 10 x 3 bid. Losing a nil bid by taking one or more tricks will penalize you 50 points. If you lose a nil bid, the extra tricks you've taken are not counted as bags.
If you have the 7 of diamonds and are considering choosing Spades, think about what your bid will be. If you can bid at least 4, it's almost always best to choose Spades. However, if your hand isn't very strong and might be a bid of 2, Hearts will probably be a better choice.
In general, it's safe to bid on aces and kings in off suits (clubs, diamonds, and hearts). Most of the time, other players will have at least two of each suit in their hands, so those aces and kings will beat the lower cards in those suits and normally won't be trumped by spades.
Similarly, it's wise to bid on high spades. Of course the ace of spades-- the most powerful card in the game-- is a guaranteed trick. The king, queen, and jack will almost always take tricks if you have other spades to support them.
If you have a "short suit" (only 1 or 2 cards), there's a good chance you'll be able to take one or two tricks led in that suit with your low trump cards. A "void suit" (no cards) is virtually guaranteed to yield two or three tricks using trump.
On the other hand, if you have mostly low cards (no face cards), it might be worth bidding nil. Be careful of a high card like a king or ace without a lot of low support cards. Similarly, if you have high spades, it may be difficult to avoid taking at least one trick. Nil is higher risk, but higher reward: it's worth the same number of points as bidding 5 tricks.
When playing, lead aces in off suits as soon as possible so you can capture those tricks before other players run out of that suit. If you have a king or queen, you should wait until someone else plays the ace (in which case you play a lower card in that suit) so you know your card is high and can be led.
If you have a lot of spades, it can be useful to lead them and force the other players to exhaust their trump, leaving you in a strong position during the endgame. But be careful not to end up with a lot of bags!
If you've been "burned" at nil because your opponents forced you to take a trick, play hard to take tricks from them. You aren't penalized for any of the bags you take, so there's no downside in attempting to keep others from making their bids.
If Hearts is chosen as the game, all players will have an opportunity to pass cards from their hand to another player. The number of cards to pass is chosen as a game option: it can be either 4 (Sparts mode) or 3 (Traditional Hearts mode). The first time Hearts is played, cards are passed to the player on your left. The second time, the cards are passed right. The third time, they are passed across the table. And the fourth time, no cards are passed. Then the cycle repeats.
Playing the hand
After everyone has passed their cards, the first player plays a card to start the trick. In Traditional Hearts mode, the first play must be the two of clubs and the first trick can't have a point card played on it. Like Spades, each player goes in turn around the table and must follow suit if possible. There is no trump suit, so the highest card in the suit that was led is the one that takes the trick.
Similar to Spades, when a heart is played on a trick, it is called breaking hearts. From this point on, a heart may be the first card played on a trick. If hearts have not been broken, they cannot be led. Of course, if you have only hearts in your hand, you can lead one. If you're playing in Sparts mode, playing the queen of spades also counts as breaking hearts because that card is a penalty card (see Scoring below).
The player who takes the trick starts the next trick, and play continues until all tricks have been finished.
All players are awarded 40 points. Then, each heart they took during the hand subtracts 2 from that score. For example, if you took a total of 10 hearts during the hand, you'll be penalized 20 points (10 x 2) for a score of 20.
The player who takes the queen of spades is penalized 26 points. This means the queen of spades is worth the same penalty as all of the 13 hearts. If you took 10 hearts, as above, and the queen of spades, your score will be -6: 40 minus 20 for the hearts, minus the additional 26 for the queen.
If you take no tricks at all during the hand, you receive 50 points instead of the usual 40.
However, if any player takes all 13 hearts and the queen of spades (all the penalty cards), that player receives 50 points and all other players receive none. This is called "shooting the moon".
If you have the 7 of diamonds and are considering choosing Hearts, it's important to notice if no cards are being passed (which is called a "hold hand") because you won't have a chance to adjust your hand.
When selecting cards to pass to other players, see if you can get rid of an entire suit, especially clubs and diamonds. Having a void suit allows you to give penalty cards (hearts and the queen of spades) to other players when they lead that suit. If you were dealt the queen of spades, it's best to pass it unless you have at least three other spades to support it. Otherwise, it's possible your opponents will lead spades and force you to play it, taking the trick and costing yourself 26 points.
Shooting the moon is difficult but very rewarding. It gives you a 50-point advantage over all the other players, which is a big leap in the game. To do it, you'll need high cards in as many suits as possible, or a very "long" suit (five or more cards). Be careful if you have low hearts, because they will often be taken by other players and prevent you from capturing all the penalty cards.
End of game
After each hand, all players' scores are updated in the score area. When at least one player's score reaches the total points for the game, the game ends. The player with the highest score is the winner.
There are three options for the length of the game: 200 points, 400 points, or 800 points.