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The Endgame in Hearts

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By Joe Andrews

Joe Andrews is the author of the book Win At Hearts, published 1998.

The term "Endgame" is borrowed from the game of Chess. It indicates the stage of play when most of the pieces have been exchanged, and the board is relatively clear. In Hearts, the "Endgame" is in reference to the stage of a hand in which each player holds six or fewer cards. Often, there is a critical point where the outcome will be decided by one key play. Let us examine the seemingly simple situation below:

Immaterial 

West 
Void 
4 3 
Void 
5 3 
  
Immaterial

South 
Q 10 
A 2 
Void 
Void 
 

 

Hearts have been distributed evenly, and there is no threat of a "Moon." East and North cannot obtain the lead, have made discards on a previous lead of Hearts, and they both hold all of the low Diamonds. There are four Hearts remaining, as well as two top Spades. West's clubs are safe, but are winners. Finally, South is on lead.The question for South is this: "Are the two remaining Hearts located in the same hand, or are they divided between two hands?" Note that the Ace of Hearts is the master card, and the deuce is the control or bottom card. Here is South's dilemma. If the Ace is led, and the Four and Three are separated, they will both fall under the Ace, and South will be stuck with the good deuce. This spells disaster, as there is no way to escape the Spade Queen! On the other side of the coin, if the two outstanding Hearts are to get her, (in the same hand), and the Ace is played, the deuce will now become an escape card, and will provide perfect passage for South to relinquish the lead.How can South be sure which way to play? In most cases, he would simply guess, and perhaps look to the Heavens for Divine Guidance. Here, he has an additional chance. The lead of the "good" Ten of Spades may be lure a player (West in this case) into unloading one of his Hearts. Now South will have an accurate count on the suit, and his control (two) bails him out of the hand. Of course, West may choose to play coyly, and ditch one of his Clubs, and still force South to guess the Hearts. The play of the Spade Ten costs South nothing, and may save him some grief. Obviously, if the Spade Queen is another hand, South must make his Heart decision on the spot!Although seemingly basic, this situation occurs relatively often. It is so important to remember the "spot" cards in all suits, and to be aware of the discards by the opponents. Possession of a safe Spade Queen in the hand is reassuring, but not necessarily a guarantee of success. Seasoned opponents will make life very miserable for you. There are times when you have to be lucky and make your own "breaks!"

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