In playing cards, a suit is one of the 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 additionally be indicated by the color printed on the card. The rank for each card is determined by the number of pips on it, except on face cards. 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. In a single deck, 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.
- 1 History
- 2 Suits in games with traditional decks
- 3 Historical French decks with extra suits
- 4 Other suited decks
- 5 Uses of playing card suit symbols
- 6 Character encodings
- 7 Metaphorical uses
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
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.
Origin and development of the Latin suits
The Latin suits consist 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 changed 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. The concept of suits predate playing cards and can be found in Chinese dice and domino games such as Tien Gow.
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,[c] and an extinct archaic type. The systems can be distinguished by the pips of their long suits: swords and clubs. Northern Italian swords are curved outward and the clubs appear to be batons. They intersect one another. Southern Italian and Spanish swords are straight, and the clubs appear to be knobbly cudgels. They do not cross each other. Portuguese pips are like the Spanish, but they intersect like Northern Italian ones. They sometimes have dragons on the aces. This system lingers on only in the Tarocco Siciliano and the Unsun Karuta of Japan. The archaic system[d] is like the Northern Italian one, but the swords are curved inward so they touch each other without intersecting. Minchiate used a mixed system of Italian clubs and Portuguese swords.
Despite a long history of trade with China, Japan was introduced to playing cards with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1540s. 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 fishing-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).
Invention of the Germanic suits
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 1440 in northern Italy, some decks started to 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, which may be part of the trump suit depending on the game or region. These cards do not have pips or face cards like the other suits. Most tarot decks used for games come with French suits but Italian suits are still used in Piedmont, Bologna, and pockets of Switzerland. A few Sicilian towns use the Portuguese-suited Tarocco Siciliano, the only deck of its kind left in Europe.
Suits in games with traditional decks
In a large and popular category of trick-taking games, 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.
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[clarification needed]
- Preferans: hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades. Only used for bidding, and No Trump [clarification needed] 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; or acorns, leaves, hearts, bells (for bidding and to determine which Jack beats which in play)
- Big Two: spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds (Presidents and Arseholes reverses suit strength: hearts, diamonds, spades, clubs)
- Teen patti: In the case where two players have flushes with cards of the same rank, the winning hand is based on suit color as ranked by clubs, hearts, spades, diamonds.
- Thirteen: Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, Spades (in descending order).
Pairing or ignoring suits
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 maintained 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.
- 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 pack occasionally used in Germany uses green spades (comparable to leaves), red hearts, yellow diamonds (comparable to bells) and black clubs (comparable 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.
Historical French decks with extra suits
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Numerous variations of the 52-card French deck have existed over the years. Most notably, Tarot Nouveau has a separate trump suit in addition to the four suits; however it is a series of cards of a different number and style than the suited cards. There have been many attempts at 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, but none have attained lasting popularity.
In 1895, Hiram Jones of the United States created one of the earliest decks with extra suits called International Playing Cards. In addition to the four standard French suits, it had two additional suits, red crosses and black bullets. (The bullets of that period were spherical, hence the pip was a circle.)
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Deck6 is a six-suited deck with three red suits (hearts, diamonds, shields), three black suits (clubs, spades, cups) and three jokers (total 81 cards).
The K6T deck is a six-suited (120-card) deck of poker sized playing cards. 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 for knight)-B(Bishop)-T(Tower for 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.
Other suited decks
A large number of games are based around a deck in which each card has a rank and a suit (usually represented by a color), and for each suit there is exactly one card having each rank, 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, Roodles, and Rook.
Other modern decks
Decks for some games are divided into suits, but otherwise bear little relation to traditional games. An example would be the board 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.
In the trick-taking card game Flaschenteufel ("The Bottle Imp"), all cards are part of a single sequence ranked from 1 to 37 but split into three suits depending on its rank. 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 rank 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-ranking cards and another, mostly high-ranking cards.
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.
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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 emblem is an Ace of Spades with the number 41. For fighter pilots, "ace" carries the meaning of flying ace.
- The Bartle Test uses the four suits as symbols of 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.
- In Homestuck, the four suits are used to represent the four "Quadrants" (forms) of romance in Troll society.
- Matespritship, in the Flushed Quadrant (Hearts), is very similar to human romance.
- Moirallegiance, in the Pale Quadrant (Diamond), is similar to the human concept of brotherly/platonic love, or "being each other's better half".
- Auspisticism, in the Ashen Quadrant (Clubs), is a three-way relationship where one mediator prevents two others from entering Kismesissitude.
- Kismesissitude, in the Caliginous Quadrant (Spades), is where both parties truly hate one another, yet are simultaneously attracted to each other.
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Name is the formal name adopted in the standard specifications.
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 (any area of personal strength) and follow suit (to imitate another's actions).
- Sample pips come from the Venetian pattern
- Sample pips come from the Castilian pattern
- "Portuguese" is slightly misleading nomenclature. The suit system may have originated in Catalonia and spread out through the western Mediterranean before being replaced by the "Spanish" system. The association with Portugal comes from the fact that they continued to use it until completely going over to French suits at the beginning of the 20th century.
- Probably associated with the Duchy of Ferrara and likely abandoned after the 15th century.
- The French suit system is generally considered a separate from the Germans and Swiss due to its different set of face cards. However, when comparing only the pips, it is Germanic.
- 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.
- Swiss-German: Rosen
- Swiss-German: Schellen
- Swiss-German: Eichel
- Swiss-German: Schilten
- 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)
- The shape of the clubs symbol is believed to be an adaptation of the German suit of acorns. 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.
- 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 Spanish word espada meaning sword from the 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.
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- Dummett, Michael (1980). The Game of Tarot. London: Duckworth. pp. 14–16.
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- Leyden, Rudolf von; Dummett, Michael (1982). Ganjifa, The Playing Cards of India. London: Victoria and Albert Museum. pp. 52–53.
- "Kartenbilder" (in German). deutscherskatverband.de. 17 January 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
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- Dawson, Tom; Dawson, Judy (2014). The Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards - Volume 4 (2nd ed.). New York: Conjuring Arts Research Center. pp. 268–274.
- Wintle, Simon. Five Suit Bridge at the World of Playing Cards. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
- Zaloga, Steven J (2007). US Airborne Divisions in the ETO 1944-45. Osprey Publishing. p. 58.
- Martin, Gary. "'In spades' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". Retrieved 24 March 2017.