In playing cards, a suit is one of several categories into which the cards of a deck are divided. Most often, each card bears one of several symbols showing to which suit it belongs; the suit may alternatively or in addition be indicated by the color printed on the card. Most card decks also have a rank for each card, and may include special cards in the deck that belong to no suit.
Traditional Western playing cards
Although many different types of deck have been known and used in Europe since the introduction of playing cards around the 14th century (see playing cards)—and several different ones are still used in various regions for various games—almost all of them have in common that:
- there are exactly four suits (possibly with the addition of some non-suited cards, see below);
- the numbers indicating which cards within a suit are "better", "higher" or "more valuable" than others, whereas there is no order between the different suits; and
- there is exactly one card of any given rank in any given suit.
The differences between European decks are mostly in the number of cards in each suit (for example, thirteen in the commonly-known Anglo-American deck, fourteen in the French Tarot, eight in some games in Germany and Austria, ten in Italy, five in Hungarian Illustrated Tarock) and in the inclusion or exclusion of an extra series of (usually) twenty-one numbered cards known as tarocks or trumps, sometimes considered as a fifth suit, but more properly regarded as a group of special suitless cards, to form what is known as a Tarot deck.
The Italian-style suits are the original suits (which is why the English term 'spade' refers not to the tool, but derived from the Italian word for swords, 'spade', which this suit represents), the suits found on the divinatory Tarot deck, and the suits found in the oldest surviving European decks. The French style suits became popular after they were introduced, largely because cards using those suits were less expensive to manufacture; the traditional suits required a woodcut for each card, while with the French suits the "pip" cards—the cards containing only a certain number of the suit objects—could be made by stencils, and only the "court" cards, the cards with human figures, required woodcuts.
The following table shows the original equivalence between various names and designs used for the suits in traditional decks in different parts of Europe. It does not show every country individually (for example, France and Denmark have 78-card Tarot decks, but they use the familiar hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs), although Anglo-American decks are known in every country, and would be used for imported games such as bridge.
|Traditional Western Playing Cards|
|Anglo-Hispano*-French suits||Hearts (♥)
(Cœurs, Corazones, Copas, Hjärter)
(Carreaux, Diamantes, Squares, Ouros, Ruter)
(Trèfles, Tréboles, Clovers, Paus, Klöver)
(Piques, Picas, Pikes, Espadas, Spader)
|German suits||Hearts (Herz)||Bells (Schellen)||Acorns (Eichel)||Leaves, Grass or Green (Laub, Gras, Blau, Grün, Blatt)|
|Swiss German suits||Roses (Rosen)||Bells (Schellen)||Acorns (Eicheln)||Shields (Schilten)|
|Italo-Spanish* suits||Cups (Coppe / Copas)||Coins (Denari / Oros)||Clubs (Bastoni / Bastos)||Swords (Spade / Espadas)|
|Tarot suits||Cups||Pentacles, Coins||Wands, Rods||Swords|
*In Spanish-speaking countries, the use of words varies. **Notice the German flag resemblance in the acorn.
|Unicode black symbols
(with HTML names)
|♥ U+2665 (♥)||♦ U+2666 (♦)||♣ U+2663 (♣)||♠ U+2660 (♠)|
|Unicode white symbols||♡ U+2661||♢ U+2662||♧ U+2667||♤ U+2664|
Suits in games with traditional decks
- Main article: trumps
In a large and popular category of trick-taking games, traditionally called whist-style games although the best-known example may now be bridge, one suit is designated in each hand of play to be trump and all cards of the trump suit rank above all non-trump cards, and automatically prevail over them, losing only to a higher trump if one is played to the same trick.
Some games treat one or more suits as being special or different from the others. A simple example is Spades, which uses spades as a permanent trump suit. A less simple example is Hearts, which is a kind of point trick game in which the object is to avoid taking tricks containing hearts. With typical rules for Hearts (rules vary slightly) the queen of spades and the two of clubs (sometimes also the jack of diamonds) have special effects, with the result that all four suits have different strategic value.
Whist-style rules generally prevent the necessity of determining which of two cards of different suits has higher value, because a card played on a card of a different suit either automatically wins or automatically loses depending on whether the new card is a trump. However, some card games also need to make a definition of which suit is intrinsically the most valuable. An example of this is in auction games such as bridge, where if one player bids to make some number of heart tricks and another bids to make the same number of diamond tricks, there must be a mechanism to determine which takes precedence.
As there is no truly standard way to order the four suits, each game that needs to do so has its own convention; however, the ubiquity of bridge has gone some way to make its ordering a de facto standard. Typical orderings of suits include (from highest to lowest):
- Bridge: spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs (for bidding and scoring);
- Five Hundred: hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades (for bidding and scoring);
- Ninety-nine: clubs, hearts, spades, diamonds (supposedly mnemonic as they have respectively 3, 2, 1, 0 lobes; see article for how this scoring is used);
- Skat: clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds (for bidding and to determine which Jack beats which in play);
- Big Two and occasionally in poker: spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds (alternates by color).
Pairing or ignoring suits
In some games, such as blackjack, suits are completely meaningless and are ignored. In a few games, such as Canasta, only the color (red or black) is relevant—thus, hearts and diamonds are equivalent to each other, but not to spades or clubs.
Bridge players constructing complex bidding systems have found it useful to give names to every possible pair of suits (so that they can agree that a particular bid means, for example, that they hold "five of a red suit": see also two suiter). There are three ways to divide four suits into pairs: by color, by rank and by shape. Color is used to denote the red suits (hearts and diamonds) and the black suits (spades and clubs). Rank is used to indicate the major (spades and hearts) versus minor (diamonds and clubs) suits. Shape is used to denote the pointed (diamonds and spades, which visually have a sharp point uppermost) versus rounded (hearts and clubs) suits. See also CRASH convention.
In the event of widespread introduction of four-color decks, it has been suggested that the red/black distinction could be replaced by pointed bottoms (hearts and diamonds visually have a sharp point downwards, whereas spades and clubs have a blunt stem).
Adding extra suits to the Anglo-American deck
Various people have independently suggested expanding the Anglo-American deck to five, six or even more suits, and have proposed rules for expanded versions of popular games such as rummy, hearts, bridge, and poker that could be played with such a deck (see external links).
Five Suit Decks
The mid to late 1930s saw a huge increase in the popularity of Bridge. Thought up one summer night by Austrian gamester Walther Marseille, Ph.D., rules were first devised for a fifth suit based on a "green" or invulnerable suit. In 1937, a book for rules using the fifth suit was written in Vienna, Austria, and patented for this set of rules. This fifth suit was produced by a number of companies. In 1938, De La Rue of Great Britain created a Bridge deck called "De La Rue's Five Suit Contract Bridge Playing Cards." This deck contained cards using grey-blue colored crowns called "Royals" as a fifth suit. According to the rules published by Parker Brothers, credit is given to Ammiel F. Decker for the rules in 1933. The fifth suit of "Greens" was called "Blätter", or sheets. In 1938, Waddington's of London created a fifth suit of more detailed crowns also called "Royals". In the same year there were three American decks that included a green "Eagle" as a fifth suit in similar Bridge decks of playing cards. The deck published by United States Playing Card Company used the Eagle in a medium green and the pips in the corners were inside green circles. The second deck was by Russell Playing Cards (owned by the United States Playing Card Company) used the same Eagle but in a darker shade and the pips in the corners were devoid of the circle. The third deck was by Arrco in 1938 and used an Eagle as well. At least five other bridge books were subsequently published to support playing Bridge with rules for this fifth suit, including one by Arrco in 1938. It is more than likely the book that Arrco published was for their own deck. Parker Brothers created a fifth-suit Bridge deck in 1938 called "Castle Bridge", in which the fifth suit of Castles looked like a Rook chess piece and was colored green. The rules are still available from the Hasbro website. After 1938, the popularity of this fifth suit fell off and the decks were no longer produced for Bridge.
A number of the following out of print decks may be found, especially through on-line auctions. Previously, Five Star Playing Cards poker sized, was manufactured by Five Star Games, which had a gold colored fifth suit of five pointed stars. The court cards are almost identical to the diamond suit in a Gemaco Five-Star deck. Cadaco manufactured a game "Tripoley Wild" with a fifth suit, (and other Wild Cards,) which contain pips of all four standard suits (hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs) on one card. That poker sized deck is not sold separately, but as part of boxed game. Five suited decks include Cinco-Loco Poker Playing Cards, produced by the USA Playing Card Company (not the United States Playing Card Company,) which introduces a new suit design. The Cinco-Loco fifth suit uses a complicated pattern, with color designs in a repeating circular series of pentagrams with four traditional suits in a four color pattern, inner circles get increasingly smaller, the fifth symbol in the circle of pentagrams is a yellow pentagram. There are then a total of ten symbols in each of the outer and repeated in inner circles. The other suits use a four-color design as noted on this page elsewhere. (Refer to archival web sites where the image can still be found.)
A commercially available five-suit poker (65-card) deck is Stardeck, which introduces "stars" as a fifth suit. In the Stardeck cards, the fifth suit is colored a mixture of black and red. This fifth suit can be counted as either a Red or a Black suit dependent upon the game being played.
Another five suited deck is Don't Quote Me, with single quotations as the fifth suit. The cards themselves are pentagonal.
Five Crowns is yet another five-suited deck, with no-revoke suits and stars as the fifth suit. The deck does not contain aces or twos.
Another deck with five suits is the Deck of Shields, which features a fifth suit of blue "shields."
Six Suit Decks
In America, in 1895, Hiram Jones created a deck called "International Playing Cards" and it had two additional suits, a red suit with crosses and a black suit of bullets. (The bullets of that period were round, hence the pip looks like a circle.) Other attempts over the years, by many card manufacturers, experimented with either suit substitutions, or additional suits added to decks of playing cards. Most of these did not last long and some such as Civil War era card decks, enjoyed limited success and are reprinted today.
Out of print is the Sextet Bridge Deck, produced for Secobra Cards by the United States Playing Card Company (copyright Ralph E. Peterson 1964, 1966) The suits are comprised of two red suits, two black suits, and two blue suits. The two new blue suits are Rackets and Wheels, the Rackets being a pair of crossed tennis rackets and the Wheels from a ship's steering wheel design.
Also out of print is the Empire Deck. It had three red suits and three black suits, introducing crowns in red and anchors in black as in the dice game Crown and Anchor.
A commercially available six-suited deck of poker sized playing cards is Deck6. It has three red suits and three black suits, introducing shields in red and cups in black.
Eight Suit Decks
The Fat Pack Playing Card Company produces an eight suit pack of cards with four additional suits; Roses (red), Axes (black), Tridents (black) and Doves (red).
Other modern suited decks
A large number of games are based around a deck in which each card has a value and a suit (usually represented by a color), and for each suit there is exactly one card having each value, though in many cases the deck has various special cards as well. Examples include Mü und Mehr, Lost Cities, DUO, Sticheln, Rage, Schotten Totten, UNO, Oh-No!, Skip-Bo, and Rook.
Other suited decks
Decks for some games are divided into suits, but otherwise bear little relation to traditional games. An example would be the game Taj Mahal, in which each card has one of four background colors, the rule being that all the cards played by a single player in a single round must be the same color. The selection of cards in the deck of each color is approximately the same and the player's choice of which color to use is guided by the contents of their particular hand.
One card game published in the United States in Kalamzoo, Michigan by the A.J.Patterson and later Flinch Card Co. (copyright 1912,) was Roodles. The deck consists of 14 cards in each of four suits, Wishbones, Horseshoes, Shamrocks, and Swastikas. Roodles was purported on the box cover as simple, instructive, scientific and entertaining. The Joker had the name of "Roodles" on the card, instead of "Joker". These suits were all printed in black.
In the trick-taking card game Flaschenteufel (The Bottle Imp) players must follow the suit led, but if they are void in that suit they may play a card of another suit and this can still win the trick if its value is high enough. For this reason every card in the deck has a different number to prevent ties. A further strategic element is introduced since one suit contains mostly low cards and another, mostly high cards.
A special mention should be made of the card game Set. Whereas cards in a traditional deck have two classifications—suit and rank—and each combination is represented by one card, giving for example 4 suits × 13 ranks = 52 cards, each card in a Set deck has four classifications each into one of three categories, giving a total of 3 × 3 × 3 × 3 = 81 cards. Any one of these four classifications could be considered a "suit", but this is not really enlightening in terms of the structure of the game.
Several people have invented decks which are not meant to be seriously played. The Double Fanucci deck from Zork takes the most imaginative licence with the suits: it has no fewer than fifteen, with the names Mazes, Books, Rain, Bugs, Fromps, Inkblots, Scythes, Plungers, Faces, Time, Lamps, Hives, Ears, Zurfs, and Tops.
The Cripple Mr. Onion deck uses eight suits, combining the standard Anglo-American French suits with the traditional Latin suited ones.
The Discordian deck is a parody of the Tarot deck, its five suits corresponding to the five Discordian elements.
The card game of sabacc from the Star Wars universe has the suits of staves, flasks, sabers, and coins, with cards ranked one through fifteen, plus two each of eight other cards which have no suit.
- Spades (suit)
- Hearts (suit)
- Diamonds (suit)
- Clubs (suit)
- The Games Journal article on card decks
- Playing Card Picture Gallery (warning: Tripod page, popups)
- Stardeck (with rules for 5-suited Poker and Spades)
- The Fat Pack Playing Card Company An eight suit pack of cards useful for playing Cripple Mr Onion
- Super-Bridge A reprinted article by Time Magazine from 1938, describing origins of five-suited bridge decks
- Deck of Shields
da:Kulør (kortspil) de:Farbe (Kartenspiel) es:Naipe fa:خشت (خال ورق) fr:Enseigne (carte à jouer) he:שליט (קלפים) ja:スート no:Farge (kortspill) pl:Pik pt:Naipe ru:Масть sv:Färg (kortspel)