Poker vs…. (Round 1 – Hearts)

November 25, 2007

I hope I never see championship Hearts on ESPN or Full Tilt anytime soon. I mean, it’s great (I suppose) that poker experienced some exposure and popularity these last few years – if you’re new to the game and needed a little kick to enjoy the ride, there hasn’t been a better time to get your feet wet. I wasn’t new to the game, however, so hearing everyone from my distant relatives to the shmo’s I work around talk about “when we’re getting a game together’ wasn’t only grating, but it wears you down, and somewhat numbs your desire to play the game at all.

That, and that alone, is why I hope hearts (or spades for that matter) never “sells out” like poker did.
But before I stray too far from my intended topic, this write-up isn’t so much about what happened to poker as it is an opening of the door to the debate of which requires more skill, hearts vs. poker.

***At this point, I’ll add a disclaimer – I’m not going to go into a lengthy tutorial on “How to Play Hearts”, so the rest of this article will assume those who continue to read are at least somewhat familiar with how the game is played.***

So, which is it?
Well, the quick answer is hearts. But if I left it there, it’d be a pretty short article, so…..


(We’ll stick with texas hold ‘em for this comparison)

POKER: At the most surface level, it’s fairly easy once you know the different poker hands. Two from your hand, three community cards totals your best 5-card poker hand. Grading scale 5/10

HEARTS: Again, not much to it, one person leads, everyone follows suit if they can, high card takes the trick…object is to avoid taking any points (one heart is worth 1 point, and the Queen of Spades is worth 13 points, making 26 points in total) or to take them all. 5/10

POKER: Hold ‘em games, much moreso than draw games, rely mostly on odds and statistics, instead of knowing what the keep and what to drop. So, really, under this category of the skill, if you understand what hands are more difficult to achieve in a hold ‘em game, you’ve already got a leg up against the competition. 3/10

HEARTS: This is where things begin to separate, but only in terms of gameplay at the moment. Hearts boasts many areas in which the player must be able to apply critical thinking to the hand he or she is dealt, even before a bid is made. Short suiting, being dealt “the Queen”, having an abundance of hearts all immediately require your brain cogs to start turning sooner rather than later. 7/10

POKER: Poker’s playing skill is dominated by intelligent betting, which is why these two different areas are combined into one. Taking control of the table with a power bet, throwing others a curve with a curious check, etc… (the list goes on and on) take talent, experience and balls (I sat here for 2 minutes trying to think of a better word to use, but I really couldn’t…sad). Aside from betting, poker players must be able to figure how their hidden hand plays not only against the community cards, but also against what other might be holding (of which betting from them can be a reveal to the contents of these hands, as well). 9/10

HEARTS: Whereas poker commands a need to be a strong better and boast intricate knowledge of situations to be a success, hearts relies solely on the playing skill. That’s not to say you can’t, or shouldn’t, play hearts for money. In fact, I can’t think of any other way I’d want to play! (I will give you a quick hint on how to play for money if you don’t already know at the end). The betting side, though, admittedly, is non-existant here. Playing skill, though, has incredible depth.

I will go on record to say that if you are playing against 3 talented, intelligence, seasoned hearts vetarans that know you’re trying to shoot the moon, then shooting the moon is one of the hardest things to do in all of cards. But even if your goal for the hand isn’t to dish out 26 crushing points to your frowning opponents, understanding how to get the most value and situational advantage out of each one of your cards requires an immense amount of discipline and …. deception. Deception? Yes, hesitating on playing a card can be the difference between escaping a hand without a point or eating the queen on the next play. (I successfully executed this a few times. A player will lead a suit of which you only have 1 card of that same suit remaining, and therefore you must play it. By hesitating, it gives the players after you the doubt as to whether you’re considering holding back a lower card of the same suit to save yourself on the next go-round if that suit is led again. If they think you’re holding back, they’re more likely to then play high on the suit so they can lead back their lowest card. If that happens, you merrily drop an off-suit high card and smile to yourself that your rouse worked!) In reality, it’s the hearts equivalent of a bluff. 8/10

POKER: Well, this is pretty much what the game is famous for after the gold bracelets and sunglasses. If you got it, you got it…and oh boy does it make a difference. 10/10

HEARTS: Whereas you might think this doesn’t come into play at all in a turn-based hand that holds you so much to suit, you’d be somewhat wrong. Watching a player make his decisions, seeing where he grabs in his stack, how he organizes his cards, how he reacts when a certain suit is led — that all counts just the same as catching a bluffer with Queen high. 6/10
POKER: Luck? LUCK??? Blasphemy, you say. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Even the champs will tell you, there is SOME luck in poker. No more evident that the cruel, cruel river. Luck detracts from skill, so poker gets a -3 here. Minus 3

HEARTS: Definitely matters. If you get stuck with the Queen as your ONLY spade…that my friend, is the worst luck of all. Likewise, having all 4 aces with 6 spades and 5 hearts…is happy time. BUT….I have to add that because each game of hearts is so much longer than a single game of Texas Hold ‘Em, there is less opportunity for “luck” to sway to outcome significantly for everyone. It might add a few more points to your hand, but it won’t knock you out after a shaky all-in. Minus 1
So there you have it, doesn’t get much more scientific than that :)

Final Score:

And hearts sneaks by with the close victory! I love both games immensely, but I really feel that as far as skill goes, hearts holds a slight edge over poker. Somewhere down the line we’ll see how poker stacks up with spades, blackjack and any others that want to “bring it.”

***OK – so now you want to know how do you make money off this? Easy. Here’s how you play hearts for money.***

– Standard hearts games are played until 1 person reaches 100. At that point, whomever has the lowest score is declared the winner.

– Applying this scoring to a monetary payout is very simply. You just assign a dollar (or cents) value to each point, and every non-winner pays the difference in points to the person with the lowest score.

Example: Player A reaches 100. Player B has 75 points. Player C has 50 points. Player D wins the game with 40 points.

So if you were playing for $1 per point, here’s how the payouts would work.

– Everyone pays player D.
– Player A owes $60 (100 points – 40 points = 60 points…$1 per point = $60)
– Player C owes $10
– Player B owes $35.

Those totals can get steep for some, so you of course can set whatever denomination you choose. (We usually do quarters).

One last thing to note here, 100 is the max. The loser has lost when he reaches 100, at least when payouts are concerned. He doesn’t have to worry about ending up with 110 or 111, etc…