The suits in poker are more than just pretty symbols and colors on the cards, they can have an effect on the game. There are some situations where the poker suits matter and those situations are going to be the topic of this article.
Poker is played with four suits:
- spades (♠),
- clubs (♣),
- diamonds (♦), and
- hearts (♥).
In order to rank hands and card denominations, different poker variants use the card suits in different ways, and some don't really use them much at all!
Texas Hold'em & Pot-Limit Omaha
In the most popular poker variants - Texas Hold'em and Pot-Limit Omaha - the suits actually have very little effect on the game. It's impossible for two players to have different flushes of the same rank as there needs to be a minimum of 3 cards (out of a maximum of 5) of a suit on the board for a flush to be possible. Therefore there's no situation where two players having the same hand strength could be a determining factor.
The only way suits are practically used in these games is when you're drawing cards for the button and two players draw the same card. If this happens then there is a ranking order of the suits - spades being highest, then hearts, then diamonds, then clubs.
Split Pot Poker Games
These games still retain a lot of popularity amongst the limit-poker community and comprise at least a couple of letters of the popular poker variant H.O.R.S.E. In these games, half the pot is awarded for the best or the 'high' hand, and half the pot is awarded to the worst or the 'low' hand. If one player wins the high hand and another player wins the low hand the pot must be evenly split between the two.
However, sometimes the pot cannot be evenly split between two players and there is an odd chip left over. In these situations, the remaining chip is given to the player whose hand has the best suit (in games with blinds this is unnecessary as the odd chip is given to the player to the left of the dealer button).
Use of Suits in 7-Card Stud
7-Card Stud may not enjoy the same popularity it once did, it is one of the few games that has a practical use for the suits in-game.
To discuss how and when the suits matter in poker, we first need to lay out the rules of 7 card stud as it plays differently to Hold'em or Omaha.
While Omaha and Hold'em are 'flop' games where community cards are put into the middle of the table that everyone can use, Stud is a 'hand' game where each player can only use the cards they're dealt to make a hand.
Another difference in Stud is that some of your cards are dealt face-up and are visible to your opponents, whereas in Hold'em and Omaha all personal cards are (supposed to be) kept face-down until the end of the hand. The way 7-Card Stud cards are dealt can be summarized as "two down, four up, one down", getting two cards face-down and one face-up in the first round of dealing, then one more card after each round of betting - three more face-up and the last card face-down.
It is almost exclusively played as a limit game, meaning there are fixed limits to the amounts you can bet depending on the street. There are no blinds in 7 card stud, instead, everyone puts in an ante, and the first three cards are then dealt - two face-down and one face-up. The person who has the lowest card showing is forced to put in the 'bring in' (the stud equivalent of the blinds). The bring-in is often around half of the smallest bet limit.
This is the first point where poker suits matter as if two players are showing the same card rank, the person with the lowest suit having to put in the bring-in. The most common way to rank the suits in casinos is reverse alphabetical order - with spades being the highest suit, then hearts, then diamonds, and clubs as the lowest-ranked suit. The play then continues clockwise from the bring-in.
However, unlike in Hold'em, you get your cards before you are forced to put in the bring-in and you have the option to either put in the minimum amount or match the betting limit of that round. The best way to think about it is that you get the choice of either putting in a small blind or a big blind depending on the strength of your hand (or its bluffing properties).
After this first round of betting, the fourth cards are then dealt face-up. Again with the absence of a button and the blinds, the way they decide who acts first is by who has the best 'showing hand' (the best two face-up cards). If two players have the same hand, the tie is broken by the suits.
If an unpaired hand is the highest showing hand for two or more players, for example, AK, then the suit of the highest-ranked card breaks the tie - in this case, the ace.
If a paired hand is the highest showing hand for two players, for example, TT, then whichever player has the highest-ranked suit (usually the spade) has the best hand.
This continues for the fifth and sixth round of betting as those cards are also dealt face-up. The seventh and final card is dealt face-down so the player who acted first on the previous street also acts first again.
If you're ever playing a home game with some of these variants it's good to remember that there are some situations where the poker suits matter - it may even lead to you winning an extra chip or two!
This article was published on April 20, 2021, and last updated on July 14, 2022.