By Kelli Mix
Kelli is the author of the 'Game Day Poker Almanac - Official Rules of Poker'. She lives in Carrollton, Georgia, where she is the state director for the Poker Players Alliance.
Poker chips, also known as tokens or checks, are commonly used in lieu of cash in even the lowest stakes home games. These small, easy-to-handle discs make the game flow at a faster rate. Most cardrooms no longer allow cash on the table except in higher stakes games where players are permitted to keep $100 bills alongside their chips.
Custom chips are a worthy expense that will not only reduce the liability of someone counterfeiting, or ‘running chips into the game,’ but will also improve the overall quality of any homegame. There are several factors to consider when purchasing a set of poker chips.
Poker chips can be purchased in sets (100 up to 1000 are common) or per chip. Regardless of whether you buy a set or individual chips, you will need a general idea of how many chips to order. You want enough chips to cover the number of players. If you are running tournaments, you will want to order what is equivalent to one chip stack per player up to the maximum players permitted, plus a few extra replacement stacks.
Here is a sample calculation:
Maximum 30 player tournament order at least 33 stacks of chips. If that equates to 20 chips in various denominations per player, then 33 x 20 = 660 chips, so you know you want to go with no less than a 700 chip set. Keep in mind, rebuy/add-on tournaments will require additional stacks or some higher denomination chips that can be “colored up”.
When calculating how many chips to buy for a live action poker game, you will need to overestimate a bit. You never know if your game will suddenly escalate to higher stakes one night. You do not want to run the risk of running out of chips, so it is better to overestimate the number of chips you will need for your poker game. Ordering will be based on the stakes of the game and the number of poker players expected. On average you should have at least 100 chips per player, with the majority of your poker chips comprised of the two lowest denominations. I recommend purchasing at least 20 high denomination chips to ensure you do not run out during a heated poker game.
There are four common types of chips: plastic, composite, ceramic, and clay chips.
There are really two types of common plastic poker chips available. The cheapest is the set commonly found in a round carrier. If you are playing friendly ‘kitchen table’ poker, these plastic chips, which can be purchased in any major chainstore will suffice. The second is Diamond chips that are made of plastic, but standard casino size and are a bit heavier than the cheaper plastic chips. These chips are solid in color and perfect for friendly poker games.
This is the most common poker chip purchased and used in regular homegames. They can also be found in chain stores and often come with a dealer button, deck of cards and a cut card. These chips are often adorned with dice, diamonds, or card suits on the edges of the chips. They are colored to match industry standards. They typically weigh 11.5 grams due to a metal insert. These chips work fine for a small stakes poker game or tournament where the risk of someone ‘running in chips’ is minimal. The most common complaint about these chips is they are slippery.
Customized composite chips with the metal insert are a common option for serious homegames. These are by far the most popular chips ordered on the internet. There are thousands of design options available for these chips. The designs can be put on label stickers, hot stamped, or engraved into the chip. The most popular weight is 11.5 grams. There is also a softer variation of this chip that does not have a metal insert for those players who do not like the ring of a metal inserted chip.
These chips have a smooth porcelain feel to them and are used in many casinos. The biggest benefit to these chips is they can be graphically designed with detail you cannot reproduce on other types of chips. They are also highly durable and will stand the test of time. There is a higher cost for these beautifully decorated poker chips, but they’ll look great in any serious home game – so if you can afford them then it’s probably worth the extra cost.
Clay chips, used mostly in casinos, are the most expensive type of chips available and generally are regarded as the best quality chips. These chips are made using a compression molding process where unique designs can be molded right into the chip. Clay chips are easiest to handle, stack, and do chip tricks with, making the $1+ per chip price tag seem worthy. Contrary to the popular belief that the heaviest chips are the best quality, clay casino chips usually weigh between 8 and 9 grams.
Try to maintain the industry standard when selecting the color of your chips. This helps reduce confusion among players who are used to betting five dollars when they toss a red chip into the pot and one hundred dollars when they bet a black chip. You will need about four different colored chips to play in a standard poker game and the two lowest valued chips will compromise the largest percentage of your set.
After selecting the dominant color of each chip, you will also have the option of selecting a secondary or tertiary accent color, which is usually around the edge of the chip. Each additional color adds to the price of the chip. Be sure to select accent colors that completely differ from the accent colors on the other chip denominations. Chip denominations can get easily mixed when stacking them if the accent colors are too similar.
If you decide against expensive clay chips, the weight of all other poker chips is one of the most important factors to consider. Lightweight chips are typically cheaper, but heavier chips are more durable. If you plan on hosting frequent poker games, you will be better off in the long run investing money in chips that will not need to be constantly replaced. In addition, players prefer to play with heavier chips which are easier to maneuver and riffle.
Common Poker Chip Weights:
There are various different chip designs. Let’s examine your options.
Chip manufacturers offer numerous designs that can be printed on the face of any poker chip. You can buy them pre-designed or for a higher price you can provide a picture or graphic artwork for customization.
You can purchase round stickers in almost any design to place on the poker chips you choose. You can even buy blank chip stickers and customize them yourself on your own computer. If you go this route, consider buying chips with a recessed center so the stickers are easier to place and harder for players to damage.
Chip stickers make it easy to replace a chip that has been battered on the face, but keep in mind they are just stickers, so they will be easier to batter in the first place. If you decide on using stickers to mark your chips, be sure to stick to the common color denominations rather than one chip color with different labels. Otherwise, someone could sneak chips out and replace the stickers with higher denominations and sneak them back later and scam you out of money.
Chips can be hot stamped with gold or silver lettering, usually only on chips with a solid colored center. It is common to use initials or dollar denominations. Keep in mind if you choose to have the dollar value stamped on the face, you lose the flexibility to change the value of the chips. Also, be aware that the gold & silver sometimes flakes off the chip with wear, especially with low quality manufacturing.
Engraving your chips will make it less likely for someone to sneak chips into your game or counterfeit your chips. Manufacturers will allow you to engrave anything you want on the chips for a set price per chip. It is common to have your name, initials or place of business engraved on the face of the chip. You have to pay double if you want both sides engraved. If you really want a customized chip that will make counterfeiting difficult, scan your signature and have it engraved on the chips.
There are a lot of factors to consider when ordering a poker chip set. If after reviewing the above information you still cannot decide on what fits your needs, order a sample set. Most reputable chip suppliers now offer a sample of one of each type of chip they offer for a price of less than $10.00. Clay chip samples run closer to $20 per sample set. This will give you a chance to feel each chip and closely inspect the design work on each style so that you will find the perfect set for your game.
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