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, often called jokers.
- 1 Traditional Western playing cards
- 2 Suits in games with traditional decks
- 3 Traditional Eastern suits and decks
- 4 Adding extra suits to the French deck
- 5 Other modern suited decks
- 6 Uses of playing card suit symbols
- 7 Metaphorical uses
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Traditional Western playing cards
Many different types of deck have been used in Europe since the introduction of playing cards around the 14th century, and several types of deck are still used in various regions for various games. Almost all of them have in common that there are exactly four suits, and numbers or other symbols indicate 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 game. 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,
- 13 in the commonly-known French deck,
- 14 in the French Tarot game,
- 12 in Spain,
- 10 in Italy and in some games in Spain,
- 9 in Switzerland for the Jass,
- 8 in some games in Germany and Austria, e.g. Skat,
- 8 for Belote in France,
- 5 in Hungarian Illustrated Tarock,
and in the inclusion or exclusion of an extra series of (usually) 21 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.
|Traditional Western Playing Cards|
|French suits  [note 1] [note 2] [note 3] [note 4]||Hearts
French: Cœurs (hearts)
French: Carreaux (tiles)
French: Trèfles (clovers)
French: Piques (pikes)
|German suits[note 5]||Hearts
German: Herz (heart), Rot (red)
German: Schellen (bells)
German: Eichel (acorn), Ecker (beechnut)
German: Laub (leaves), Grün (green), Gras (grass), Blatt (leaf)
|Swiss-German suits[note 6]||Roses
|Italo-Spanish or Latin suits   :207 :15,155,224 [note 7] [note 8]
(Symbols shown: Piacentine, Napoletane, Spagnole, and Bergamasche sets.)[note 9]
(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
(French suits)[note 10]:18
(German suits)[note 11]
|Clergy||Nobility||Peasants||Burghers (middle class)|
(Italian suits)[note 12]:50
|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|
|Element (Tarot)[note 13]:62||Water||Earth||Fire||Air|
|Number (French suits)[note 14]||2 (two lobes)||4 (four points)||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|
Suits in games with traditional decks
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 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.
Ranking of suits
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):
- Bridge (for bidding and scoring) and occasionally poker: spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs; 'notrump' ranks above all the suits
- Preferans: hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades. Only used for bidding, and No Trump is considered higher than hearts.
- 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: spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds
- Teen patti: In the case where two players have flushes with cards of the same value, the winning hand is based on suit color as ranked by clubs, hearts, spades, diamonds.
Pairing or ignoring suits
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.
- 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.
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.
Traditional Eastern suits and decks
Eastern cultures, particularly Japan, were introduced to playing cards with the arrival of Portuguese explorer Francisco Xavier in 1549 AD. With him and his sailors came a 48-card deck (12 ranks, four suits) that was popular for gambling games at the time. This 48-card deck was adopted by the Japanese for the same purpose. 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 game of the same name. 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).
In China and Southeast Asia, the game of Mahjong developed as the result of a similar introduction to playing cards and was combined with the Hindu-Chinese development of dominoes resulting in tiles instead of cards. These tiles are organized into the following groups: three major suits of nine unique values (Coins, Strings and Characters, derived from the ancient Chinese monetary system), plus four Honors (cardinal directions), four Flowers, four Seasons, and three Dragons (Red, Green and White). The full set has four copies of each value of each major suit, four of each Dragon and Honor tile value, and one of each Flower and Season tile, for 144 total tiles. They are used to play a game very similar to Rummy; players draw and discard in an attempt to form their entire hand into one or more groups of tiles. They are also used to play a solitaire game that is very popular in the United States in its electronic form. The Mahjong tileset is also available in the form of playing cards, making it more portable, but this is a relatively recent development.
In both Japan and continental Asia, the 52-card French-suited deck is also popular as are some of the games played with them.
Adding extra suits to the French deck
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, 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 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.
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.
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 Sextet Bridge Deck (copyright Ralph E. Peterson 1964, 1966), produced for Secobra Cards 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.
A commercially available six-suited (78-card) deck of poker sized playing cards is the Empire Deck. 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.
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 looks very similar to two 52 pack decks and has 111 total cards. Besides the traditional Club, Spade, Heart and Diamond suits, it adds the Cross, Oracle, Castle and Shield suits. These combined eight suits offer suit colors of red, black gold and blue. The cards are Ace through King with a distinct Joker for each pair of suit colors, a Boss Joker overall and Null cards.
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, Phase 10, 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.
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 × 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.
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.
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 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.
Uses of playing card suit symbols
Card suit symbols occur in places outside card playing:
- The four suits were famously employed by the 101st Airborne Division during World War II to distinguish its four constituent regiments:
- Clubs (♣) identified the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment; currently worn by the 1st Brigade Combat Team.
- Diamonds (♦) identified the 501st PIR. 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment is now part of the 4th Brigade (ABN), 25th Infantry Division in Alaska; the Diamond is currently used by the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.
- Hearts (♥) identified the 502nd PIR; currently worn by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
- Spades (♠) identified the 506th PIR; currently worn by the 4th Brigade Combat Team.
- British Navy Fleet Air Arm search and rescue units (helicopters, etc.) sport an ace of clubs symbol.
- The United States Navy's Strike Fighter Squadron 41 (VFA-41) is nicknamed The Black Aces and their insignia is a playing card with the spade present and numbered 41. For fighter pilots, "ace" carries the meaning of flying ace.
- The Japanese television series Kamen Rider Blade uses the playing cards and their symbols as an overall motif for the series. Each of the four Kamen Riders derives his name from the Minor Arcana that parallels the four suits: Blade represents Spades, Garren (based on the word Galleon) represents Diamonds, Chalice represents Hearts, and Leangle (a type of Aborigine war-club) represents Clubs.
- The Bartle Test uses the four suits in order to distinguish different player personalities that arise typically in a video game:
- Clubs (Killers) (♣) enjoy competition and take pleasure in causing physical destruction in the virtual environment.
- Diamonds (Achievers) (♦) enjoy gaining points, levels, or any physical measure of their in-game achievement.
- Hearts (Socializers) (♥) enjoy playing games for the social aspect or by interacting with other players.
- Spades (Explorers) (♠) enjoy digging around, discovering new areas, or learning about easter eggs or glitches in the game.
- The webcomic Homestuck uses suits and card motifs as the symbols of four characters, as well as to represent romantic ideas (just as a heart commonly represents love).
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).
- The French suits are also an international standard, even in countries with differing traditional suits. In Germany, Turnierbild (tournament-style) decks use four-color French symbols, with yellow Diamonds, green Spades and sometimes brown Clubs, as a compromise between French and German suits.
- Clubs are also known as clovers, flowers and crosses. The French name for the suit is trèfles meaning clovers, the Italian name for the suit is fiori meaning flowers and the German name for the suit is Kreuz meaning cross.
- The shape of the clubs symbol is believed to be an adaptation of the German suit of acorns.
- In the Germanic countries the spade was the symbol associated with the blade of a spade. The English term spade originally did not refer to the tool but was derived from the Italian word spada meaning sword from the Italo-Spanish suit. Those symbols were later changed to resemble the digging tool instead to avoid confusion. In German and Dutch the suit is alternatively named Schippen and schoppen respectively, meaning shovels.
- Popularity of these German suits depends on the region and the game involved; they are generally found only in 32-card decks for Skat or 48-card decks for Doppelkopf; German Bridge decks (with 52 cards) normally use the international/French suits. Skat and Doppelkopf decks are available in four-color French suits as well; see Note 1.
- There does not appear to be a single universal system of correspondences between Swiss-German and French suits. Cards combining the two suit systems are manufactured in different versions with different combinations of suits.
- In Spanish-speaking countries, the use of words varies, and the French suits are often used in Latin American countries.
- Hearts are generally associated with the Italian cups suit and spades are generally associated with the Italian swords suit. The English names given to the standard French suit signs are not the same in meaning as the French names except for hearts, which could explain the popular belief that clubs (which were originally fleurs meaning flowers, later trèfles meaning clovers) were derived from Italian bastoni (batons). However, occult author Paul Huson and 18th century French cartomancers such as Antoine Court de Gébelin and Etteilla associate clubs with Italian coins (Tarot Pentacles) and diamonds with Italian batons (Tarot Wands). This association becomes more obvious when observing the Minor Arcana suit patterns of the Tarot of Marseilles, in particular the floral pattern inside the coins and the diamond shapes in the lattice made by the batons.
- The symbols of the set from Piacenza are the most commonly used in Italy but the symbols vary greatly depending on the part of the country the cards are from. For an exhaustive overview, please see this entry on the Italian Wikipedia.
- In 1704 Claude-François Ménestrier, a Jesuit antiquarian from Lyon, associated the French suits with the four major feudal classes: clergy (hearts/cœurs), nobility (spades/piques), merchants (diamonds/carreaux) and peasants (clubs/trèfles).
- The German suits are said to have represented the four major feudal classes: clergy (hearts/Herz), middle class (leaves/Laub), nobility (bells/Schellen) and peasants (acorns/Eichel).
- The Italian suits are said to have represented the four major feudal classes: clergy (cups/coppe), nobility (swords/spade), merchants (coins/denari) and peasants (clubs/bastoni).
- The Tarot suits were first associated with elements by Eliphas Levi in The Doctrine of Transcendental Magic (1855). Levi associated Tarot Wands with fire, Tarot Cups with water, Tarot Swords with air and Tarot Pentacles with earth and this is the most common system of elemental correspondences used in divinatory Tarot today. Suit-element correspondences for playing card cartomancy systems vary, where applicable. In The Playing Card Oracles by Ana Cortez, diamonds are associated with fire, hearts are associated with water, spades are associated with earth and clubs are associated with air. In Cards of Your Destiny by Robert Camp, diamonds are associated with earth, hearts are associated with water, spades are associated with fire and clubs are associated with air.
- This is one possible system of number associations for the French suits suggested by the points or lobes in the shapes of their symbols. Ranking of suits for gaming purposes depends on the rules of the game being played.
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- Cortez, Ana (2002). The Playing Card Oracles. Denver, CO: Two Sisters Press. pp. 12–24. ISBN 9780971986107.
- Camp, Robert (2004). Cards of Your Destiny. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks. p. 2. ISBN 9781402202483.
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- Newton's Novelties
- Five Crowns on Setgame.com
- 8 Suits.com; deck includes extended rules for euchre
- TheFatpackcards.com, Fat Pack Playing Card Company
- Toss.4t.com Toss™ Double Deck Deluxe Playing Cards
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Playing card suits.|
- Names of ranks of court cards and suits in various languages
- The Games Journal article on card decks
- Stardeck (with rules for 5-suited Poker and Spades)
- Empire Deck (with rules for 5- and 6-suited Rummy and Hearts)
- Super-Bridge A reprinted article by Time Magazine from 1938, describing origins of five-suited bridge decks
- the Discordian Tarot
- Five Crowns, a 5-suits deck
- 5°Dimension, a deck with 5 suits of 16 cards each