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 pips (symbols) showing to which suit it belongs; the suit may alternatively or in additionally be indicated by the color printed on the card. The rank for each card is determined by the number of pips on it. Ranking indicates which cards within a suit are better, higher or more valuable than others, whereas there is no order between the suits unless defined in the rules of a specific card game. Unless playing with multiple decks, there is exactly one card of any given rank in any given suit. A deck may include special cards that belong to no suit, often called jokers.
Various languages have different terminology for suits such as colors, signs, or seeds. Modern Western playing cards are generally divided into two or three general suit-systems. The older Latin suits are subdivided into the Italian and Spanish suit-systems. The younger Germanic suits are subdivided into the German and Swiss suit-systems. The French suits are a derivative of the German suits but are generally considered a separate system on its own.
Latin suits consists of coins, clubs, cups, and swords. They are the earliest suit-system in Europe, having been adopted from the cards imported from Mamluk Egypt and Moorish Granada in the 1370s. These Turko-Arabic cards, called Kanjifa, employed the same suits but the clubs represented polo-sticks. Europeans change that suit as polo was an obscure sport to them. Ultimately the suits can trace their roots back to China where playing cards were first invented. The earliest card games were trick-taking games and the invention of suits increased the level of strategy and depth in these games. A card of one suit cannot beat a card from another regardless of its rank.
Chinese money-suited cards are believed to be the oldest ancestor to the Latin suit-system. The money-suit system is based on denominations of currency: Coins, Strings of Coins, Myriads of Strings, and Tens of Myriads. Old Chinese coins had holes in the middle to allow them to be strung together. A string of coins could easily be misinterpreted as a stick to those unfamiliar with them. The Mamluks called their suit of cups Myriads and this may have been due to inverting the Chinese character for myriad (万). The Mamluk suit of swords may also have been inspired by the Chinese numeral for Ten (十). Another clue linking these Chinese, Muslim, and European cards are the ranking of certain suits. In many early Chinese games like Madiao, the suit of coins was in reverse order so that the lower ones beat the higher ones. In the Indo-Persian game of Ganjifa, half the suits were also inverted, including a suit of coins. This was also true for the European games of Tarot and Ombre. The inverting of suits had no purpose in regards to gameplay but was an artifact from the earliest games.
There are four types of Latin suits: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and an extinct archaic type. They can be distinguished by the pips of their long suits (swords and clubs). Italian swords and curved and clubs appear to be batons and they intersect one another. Spanish swords are straight and clubs appear to be cudgels and they don't cross each other. Portuguese pips are like the Spanish but they intersect like Italian ones. The archaic system is like the Italian one but the curve swords only touching each other without intersecting. Minchiate used a mixed system of Italian clubs and Portuguese swords. The archaic system did not survive the 15th century. The Portuguese system lingers on only in the Tarocco Siciliano and the Unsun Karuta of Japan.
Despite a long history of trade with China, Japan never adopted Chinese cards. They were introduced to playing cards with the arrival of Portuguese explorer Francisco Xavier in 1549 AD. With him and his sailors came the Portuguese suited deck. Early locally made cards, Karuta, were very similar to Portuguese decks. Increasing restrictions by the Tokugawa shogunate on gambling, card playing, and general foreign influence, resulted in the Hanafuda card deck that today is used most often for a matching-type games. The role of rank and suit in organizing cards became switched, so the hanafuda deck has 12 suits, each representing a month of the year, and each suit has 4 cards, most often two normal, one Ribbon and one Special (though August, November and December each differ uniquely from this convention).
During the 15th-century, manufacturers in German speaking lands experimented with various new suit systems to replace the Latin suits. One early deck had five suits, the Latin ones with an extra suit of shields. The Swiss-Germans developed their own suits of shields, roses, acorns, and bells around 1450. Instead of roses and shields, the Germans settled with hearts and leaves around 1460. The French derived their suits of trèfles (clovers or clubs♣), carreaux (tiles or diamonds♦), cœurs (hearts♥), and piques (pikes or spades♠) from the German suits around 1480. French suits correspond closely with German suits with the exception of the tiles with the bells but there is one early French deck that had crescents instead of tiles. The English names for the French suits of clubs and spades may simply have been carried over from the older Latin suits.
Beginning around the mid-15th century in Italy, some decks include of an extra suit of (usually) 21 numbered cards known as trionfi or trumps, to play tarot card games. Always included in tarot decks is one card, the Fool or Excuse, whose function varies according to the game or region. These cards do not have pips like the other suits.
|Traditional Western Playing Cards|
French: Cœurs (hearts)
French: Carreaux (tiles)
French: Trèfles (clovers)
French: Piques (pikes)
German: Herz (heart), Rot (red), Hungarian: Piros (red), Czech: Srdce (heart), Červené (red)
German: Schellen (bells), Hungarian: Tök (pumpkin), Czech: Kule (balls)
German: Eichel (acorn), Ecker (beechnut), Hungarian: Makk (acorn), Czech: Žaludy (acorns)
German: Laub (leaves), Grün (green), Gras (grass), Blatt (leaf) Hungarian: Zöld (green), Czech: Listy (leaves), Zelené (green)
|Italian and Spanish or Latin suits
(Symbols shown: Piacentine, Napoletane, Spagnole, and Bergamasche sets.)
(Playing tarot decks use Italian suits or French suits. The cards shown here are the Minor Arcana aces from the Italian-suited Rider-Waite Tarot, an esoteric tarot deck.)
||Pentacles, Coins, Rings or Discs
||Wands, Clubs, Batons or Staves
|Clergy||Nobility||Peasants||Burghers (middle class)|
|Clergy||Burghers (Merchants and artisans)||Peasants||Nobility|
|Symbolism in cartomancy
|love, joy, happiness||money, risk, excitement||work, effort, achievements||problems, disappointments, sickness|
|Symbolism in cartomancy
|love, friendship, happiness||money, lottery winnings, carefree life||trouble, loss, sickness||hope, pleasant events and activities|
|Number (French suits)||2 (two lobes)||4 (four points)||3 (three lobes)||1 (one point)|
|Number (French suits used in game of ninety-nine)||2 (two lobes)||0 (looks like a squared-off zero)||3 (three lobes)||1 (one point)|
|Unicode black French suit symbols
(with HTML names)
|♥ U+2665 (♥)||♦ U+2666 (♦)||♣ U+2663 (♣)||♠ U+2660 (♠)|
|Unicode white French suit symbols||♡ U+2661||♢ U+2662||♧ U+2667||♤ U+2664|
Read main article: Trump
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 may be designated in each deal 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. Non-trump suits are called plain suits.
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. Tarot decks have a dedicated trump suit.
Whist-style rules generally preclude the necessity of determining which of two cards of different suits has higher rank, 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 define relative suit rank. An example of this is in auction games such as bridge, where if one player wishes to bid to make some number of heart tricks and another to make the same number of diamond tricks, there must be a mechanism to determine which takes precedence in the bidding order.
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):
The pairing of suits is a vestigial remnant of Ganjifa, a game where half the suits were in reverse order, the lower cards beating the higher. In Ganjifa, progressive suits were called "strong" while inverted suits were called "weak". In Latin decks, the traditional division is between the long suits of swords and clubs and the round suits of cups and coins. This pairing can be seen in Ombre and Tarot card games. German and Swiss suits lack pairing but French suits reintroduced them and this can be seen in the game of Spoil Five.
In some games, such as blackjack, suits are ignored. In other games, such as Canasta, only the color (red or black) is relevant. In yet others, such as bridge, each of the suit pairings are distinguished.
Fundamentally, there are three ways to divide four suits into pairs: by color, by rank and by shape resulting in six possible suit combinations.
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).
Some decks, while using the French suits, give each suit a different color to make the suits more distinct from each other. In bridge, such decks are known as no-revoke decks, and the most common colors are black spades, red hearts, blue diamonds and green clubs, although in the past the diamond suit usually appeared in a golden yellow-orange. A related set occasionally used in Germany uses green spades (compare to leaves), red hearts, yellow diamonds (compare to bells) and black clubs (compare to acorns). This is a compromise deck devised to allow players from East Germany (who used German suits) and West Germany (who adopted the French suits) to be comfortable with the same deck when playing tournament Skat after the German reunification.
Numerous variations of the 52-card French deck have existed over the years. Most notably, the tarot deck has a separate trump series in addition to the four suits; however this fifth suit is a series of cards of a different number and style than the suited cards. Various people have independently suggested expanding the French deck to five, six or even more suits where the additional suits have the same number and style of cards as the French 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.
If commercially-made decks are not readily available, a deck with up to eight suits can be made from two identical decks by altering the suit symbols throughout one of them with a non-fading marker. R. Wayne Schmittberger in New Rules for Classic Games originated the idea of drawing an arrow through each heart to create valentines and a cross through each diamond to create kites. Clubs would have their stem rounded to create cloverleaves and spades would have horns and tail added to become devils.
In the mid to late 1930s there was an 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 1935, 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 leaves. In 1937 and 1938, Waddington's of London created a fifth suit of more detailed crowns also called Royals, which respectively featured light blue and dark green crowns. 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. After 1938, the popularity of this fifth suit fell off and the decks were no longer produced for Bridge. The title of a science-fiction novel by James Blish, Jack of Eagles, refers to the main character being different.
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. Five-suit decks using the Star suit are still in print in differing designs through vendors such as Stardeck and Newton's Novelties. 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.
A commercially available five-suit poker (65-card) deck is Stardeck, introduced in 1938, 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. There are also 2 special cards (or Jokers) 1 each of red and black and shown with that colour star in the corner, but no numeral or letter.
Estate Playing Cards designed in 2006, is a contemporary five-suit (62-card) deck which adds a fifth suit (estate) called Waves. Estate cards signifies the five estates identified as Waves (green), Hearts (red), Diamonds (orange), Clubs (blue) and Spades (black). The three Royals are replaced with two Family - Man and Woman. Jokers are replaced with Imperials (Pope and President). Most games can be played, however they become more involved. 5 Card Poker traditionally has over 2 million possible hands with Royal Flush as the lowest probability. Estate Poker has 5,461,512 possible hands with Family Flush as the lowest probability and new hands such as Five of a Kind.
5° Dimension, is an 80-card deck introduced in 2007. The five suits are Hearts (red), Spades (black), Clubs (green), Diamonds (yellow) and Stars (blue). Each suit has 16 cards: 1 to 10, King, Queen, Jack, Princess, Ace (distinct from 1) and a Joker.
Five Crowns is yet another five-suited deck similar to that of 5° Dimension, The suits are Hearts (red), Spades (black), Clubs (green), Diamonds (blue) and Stars (yellow) with no-revoke suits. The deck contains 3 Jokers but does not contain aces or twos, making the card count per deck 58.
Another five suited deck is Don't Quote Me, with single quotations as the fifth suit. The cards are pentagonal.
Five-suited decks find some use in cartomancy. In these contexts, the fifth suit is used for its association with the classical element Aether, also called Void or Sky.
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 was a circle.) Other attempts over the years experimented with either suit substitutions or additional suits added to decks of playing cards. Most of these did not last long, but some such as Civil War era card decks enjoyed limited success and are reprinted today.
Out of print is the Nu-Dek Sextet Bridge deck (copyright Ralph E. Peterson 1964, 1966), manufactured for Sextet Contract Bridge Associates ("SECOBRA") by the United States Playing Card Company. Two blue suits are added to the standard four: Rackets being a pair of crossed tennis rackets, and Wheels from a ship's steering wheel design.
Another out of print six-suited (78-card) deck of poker sized playing cards is the Empire Deck, introduced in 1990. It has three red suits and three black suits, introducing crowns in red and anchors in black as in the dice game Crown and Anchor.
A six-suited (120-card) deck of poker sized playing cards is the K6T deck,. The traditional suits are colored (green clubs and orange diamonds) and are completed with blue moons and purple stars. Each suit has 20 cards ranked as 0(=Joker)-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-J-C(Cavalier)-B(Bishop)-R(Rook)-Q-K-Ace.
8 Suits Playing Cards, conceived in the late 1970s and manufactured through BrienmarK Products Inc., adds red Moons, black Stars, red four-leaved Clovers and black Tears. This deck was originally created to allow more players in a game of euchre.
The Fat Pack adds red Roses, black Axes, black Tridents and red Doves to the standard deck.
Toss™ Double Deluxe Decks consists of the traditional French suits plus gold Crosses and Oracles, blue Castles and Shields, five Jokers (one for each color plus a Boss Joker) and two Null cards.
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, Phase 10, Oh-No!, Skip-Bo, and Rook.
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.
Roodles, a game published in 1912 by A.J. Patterson of Kalamazoo and later by Flinch Card Co., uses a deck with 14 cards in each of four suits (all black) - Wishbones, Horseshoes, 4-Leaf Clovers, and Swastikas - plus a joker labeled "Roodles". Roodles was described on its box cover as simple, instructive, scientific and entertaining.
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 x 13 ranks = 52 cards, each card in a Set deck has four classifications each into one of three categories, giving a total of 3 x 3 x 3 x 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.
Another special mention should be made of the 9-suit decks sold by TSR for use with the Dragonlance: Fifth Age roleplaying game. These decks, sold both separately and included in the game, also can be used for several card game uses. The deck has Shields, Arrows, Helms, Swords, Crescent Moons, Orbs, Hearts, and Crowns, each suit numbered 1-9, plus a suit of dragons numbered 1-10, providing an 82 card deck. The system was released in 1996.
Bicycle Playing Cards produce a set of 55 cards that technically has 11 suits. They are actually a set of Double Nine Dominoes, where each card belongs to 2 suits. As in dominoes, each half of the domino represents one suit, in this case the suits range from 0 (blank) up to 9, and the eleventh suit is reserved for the doubles.
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 fictional suits, but may be simulated by combining the standard French suits with the traditional Latin suited ones or by using a modern 8-suited deck.
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 (similar to Latin suits), with cards ranked one through fifteen, plus two each of eight other cards which have no suit.
The deck used in Firefly has suits of Plum, Peach, Orange, Apple, Apricot, and Banana.
In World of Warcraft, there are cards that randomly drop from humanoid enemies. If a player collected the entire suit, he/she could trade it for a trinket that would grant special abilities. Initially, this was limited to the ace through eight of the suits of Elementals, Beasts, Warlords, and Portals. A later content patch added the suits of Lunacy, Storms, Furies, and Blessings. The Inscription skill allowed the crafting of cards of the suits of Mages, Swords, Rogues, and Demons.
Card suit symbols occur in places outside card playing:
In computer and another digital media, suit symbols are represented with character encoding, notably in the ISO and Unicode standards, and as Web standard (SGML's named entity "&name;" syntax):
|UTF code:||U+2660 (9824dec)||U+2665 (9829dec)||U+2666 (9830dec)||U+2663 (9827dec)|
|Name:||Black Spade Suit||Black Heart Suit||Black Diamond Suit||Black Club Suit|
|UTF code:||U+2664 (9828dec)||U+2661 (9825dec)||U+2662 (9826dec)||U+2667 (9831dec)|
|Name:||White Spade Suit||White Heart Suit||White Diamond Suit||White Club Suit|
|UTF codes are expressed by the Unicode code point "U+hexadecimal number" syntax, and as subscript the respective decimal number.
Symbols are expressed here as they are in the web browser's HTML renderization.
Name is the formal name adopted in the standard specifications.
Unicode is the most frequently used encoding standard, and suits are in the Miscellaneous Symbols Block (2600-26FF) of the Unicode.
In some card games the card suits have a dominance order: club (lowest) - diamond - heart - spade (highest). That led to in spades being used to mean more than expected, in abundance, very much.
Other expressions drawn from bridge and similar games include strong suit (used to refer to any area of personal strength) and following suit (in the sense of going along with the crowd).