The humble chip is the currency of the casino and essential to the game of poker.
The convenience of color corresponding chips allows for bets, big or small, to be calculated and placed much faster than flicking through coins or banknotes.
This speeds up the flow of the betting process and allows the players to get on with more important aspects of the game.
At a glance, it’s easy to recognize who the chip leader is by the walls of piles of chips they’re accumulating.
There’s also a psychological aspect to the use of casino tokens. They add a degree of separation between the patron and the money they’re betting with.
It is thought that you’re likely to spend more money and place bigger bets if it feels less like real money is being put down.
A similar psychological trick is used by eating establishments by simply removing the currency symbols from their prices—check for this one next time you’re eating out.
The History of the Poker Chip
The earliest incarnation of poker chips came into being in the 18th century as tokens for the card games Ombre and Quadrille.
Quadrille sets in Revolutionary France contained several different counters called mils, jetons and fiches. The denomination of these pieces were determined not by their colour, but their shape.
In the 1800s, poker chips consisting of bits of bone, gold nuggets, coins or even paper and wood were being replaced in the saloons by branded bits of clay or ivory, to combat the problem of forgery.
By the year 1880, clay composition chips were being commercially produced, usually in colours: white, red, blue and yellow and with many designs to choose from.
How They’re Made Today
Primarily, three materials exist today in the manufacturing of poker chips, injection moulded ABS plastic, ceramic and compression moulded clay.
The clay variety, since the 1950s has been made of a clay composite with other materials added to make them less brittle and more durable.
Available in 11.5g and 13.5g weights, they’re much heavier than plastic chips. To combat this, some plastic chips have a metal core inside them to make them feel more akin to the superior clay counterparts.
Referred to as ceramic but actually made of a ceramic-like resin are used in some casinos to be further long lasting. Ceramic chips are also favored for performing tricks with poker chips for the way they glide over one another.
- Riffling – there’s no live poker game that isn’t accompanied by the endless sound of chip riffling. Giving players something to keep their mind focused on so as not to give away a tell, riffling is the stacking, cutting and shuffling of chips, similar to the way you might with cards.
- Knuckle roll – you need some dexterity and a lot of practice to master this one where the chip rolls across the back of the hand between each finger and is then transported back to the beginning with the thumb and repeated. This trick can also be performed with a heavy coin.
- Spinning, rolling and fanning – there are also many other tricks to master to impress and distract (you or your opponent) on the table.
The color of money
The colour coded denominations of chips combined with the height of the stacks make them easy to assess the value of at a glance.
There are no official rules but there is a standardised system of values used at international tournaments as follows:
- White 1 USD
- Red 5 USD
- Blue 10 USD
- Grey 20 USD
- Green 25 USD
- Orange 50 USD
- Black 100 USD
- Pink 250 USD
- Purple 500 USD
- Yellow 1000 USD (sometimes burgundy or dark grey)
- Light blue 2000 USD
- Brown 5000 USD
During most professional tournaments the values of the chips do not represent actual currency and are merely a gauge of who has the short stack and who is the chip leader.
The prize money can be less and often significantly more than the face value of the chips on the table.
Big Money Chips
For a high roller, it would be cumbersome to place large bets using small value chips but you wouldn’t want to misplace the famous casino chip at The Paris Casino, Las Vegas.
At 100 thousand USD, it’s thought to be the highest singular denomination casino chip in existence. Some Casinos are also rumored to have special plaques which can be placed as bets with face values in the millions.
There is a market for vintage casino chips. Chips from the iconic Sands casino, Las Vegas chips from the 1950s are particularly rare and sought after so fetch high prices at auction.
Only one 5 USD Golden Goose chip from 1976 is known to still exist today. It was purchased at a convention for casino antiques in Las Vegas in 2015 for 75 thousand USD after being bought in 2001 for 6 thousand USD.
But the record figures are broken not by old but by new chips in production. Geoffrey Parker, a British manufacturer specialises in luxury poker chipsets, including a Swarovski Crystal set presented in an alligator leather case that retails for 62 thousand GBP.
The website states, the crystals can be upgraded to diamonds and rubies but in that event, next-day delivery wouldn’t be available (and we can understand why).
The firm holds the record for the most expensive chips in production, an 18-carat white gold, diamond-encrusted set that will set you back an eye-watering 7.5 million USD.
The colors of the chips are achieved by using rubies, emeralds, and sapphires and the uber-luxury item comes complete with platinum finished playing cards.
There’s more behind these innocuous little discs than meets the eye so do away with those matches or copper coins and invest in your own set of chips. It’s a great way to upgrade your regular poker night.