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.
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:
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 or stamps, and only the "court" cards, the cards with human figures, required woodcut illustrations. All four European suit styles - Italo-Spanish, Latin-Tarot, Germanic and French - originally referred to the four major feudal classes: military, clergy, merchant/trade, and agriculture.
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-American-French suits*|| Hearts (♥)|
(Cœurs, Corazones, Copas, Hjärter, Srdce)
| Diamonds (♦)|
(Carreaux, Diamantes, Squares, Ouros, Ruter, Kára)
| Clubs (♣)|
(Trèfles, Tréboles, Clovers, Paus, Klöver, Kříže)
| Spades (♠)|
(Piques, Picas, Pikes, Espadas, Spader, Listy ; Piky)
|German suits||Hearts (Herz)||Bells (Schellen, Kule)||Acorns (Eichel, ''Žaludy)**||Leaves, Grass or Green (Laub, Gras, Blau, Grün, Blatt, Zelený)|
|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)|
|Occult Tarot||Cups||Pentacles, Coins, Rings or Discs||Wands, Batons or Staves||Swords|
|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|
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.
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 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).
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 (because it is harder to accidentally "renege" on a contract by not following suit) and the most common colors are black Spades, red Hearts, blue Diamonds and green Clubs. A related set very common in Germany but rarer in the United States 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 Anglo-French suits) to be comfortable with the same deck when playing tournament Skat after the Reunification.
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.
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 as noted on this page elsewhere. (Refer to archival web sites where the image can still be found.)
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. The same cannot be said with 5° Dimension , an 80-card deck commercialised from the end of 2007. The five suits are Hearts (red), Spades (black), Clubs (green), Diamonds (yellow) and Stars (blue). Each suits has 16 cards: 1 to 10, King, Queen, Jack, Princess, Ace (different from 1) and a Joker. Every card has received a very careful symbolic design.
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.
One card game published in the United States in Kalamazoo, 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.
Another special mention should be made of the 9 suited 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.
The Cripple Mr. Onion deck uses eight suits, combining the standard Anglo-American French suits with the traditional Latin suited ones.
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.