Types of chips

While there are dozens (or even hundreds) of different varieties of poker chips available to consumers, they all fall into two groups. Either they are authentic casino chips, or they are not. Probably 99% of the chips you’ll come across when researching poker chips in the consumer world are non-authentic chips. They’ll work just fine, but they’re an entirely different product.

Authentic casino chips (High-end poker chips)

We specialize in authentic casino chips, which we define as chips made by the same manufacturers that make chips for Las Vegas casinos, using the same materials, processes, and quality control. These come in true clay and ceramic (See our Archetype line).

Other poker chips

In the poker chip world, especially on the web, the term “Clay poker chips” is woefully misunderstood and frequently abused. While only a handful of companies in the world offer true clay poker chips, almost every poker chip vendor out there claims to sell them, often using intentionally vague marketing jargon such as “clay composite”, “casino-grade”, or “casino-style” poker chips. In reality, they are not true clay chips and are nothing close to the actual chips they are using in Las Vegas casinos today. The majority of these chips (which come in hundreds of styles and colors) are nothing more than injection-molded plastic poker chips. You can find different varieties of these chips pretty much everywhere online and in regular retail stores. Some have metal inserts. Some do not. Some weigh 8 grams. Some weigh 11.5 grams. Some weigh more and some weigh less. All of them claim to be “just like the casinos”, yet almost none are.

Telling true clay poker chips from all the imitators

Price is the first tip off. Authentic casino chips cost around $1.00 to $1.50 per chip, some more, some less, depending on the style and quality. If a chip is for sale for less than 75 cents per chip, it’s not likely an authentic casino chip. Usually, the price difference is much more distinct as most low end chips sell for less than 25 cents per chip, and the really cheaply made ones sell for closer to 10 cents per chip.

Weight is the second tip off. The standard weight of authentic casino chips is (drum roll please) between 8.5 and 10 grams. Every chip you’ll find in Las Vegas is in this weight range. Unfortunately, there is an overwhelming amount of conflicting and confusing information about the weight of poker chips on the web.

Other than that, your best bet is to go with a trusted vendor as it's often difficult for a newbie to tell what a true clay poker chip is and what is not unless they can compare it directly to a chip brought home from a casino. Unfortunately, the poker chip retail industry is teeming with unscrupulous vendors who sell low-end plastic chips and call them "clay composite" or something of that nature. Be careful.

Poker chip sizes

Authentic poker chips have a standardized diameter of 39mm. Low-end poker chips, although there is no standard, are typically 40mm.

Inlays (on true clay poker chips)

In layman terms, a poker chip inlay is the center sticker with printed graphics, which typically includes the chip denomination. It’s not a sticker, as it is compression-molded into the chip and is not removable, but that the general idea.

Molds (on true clay poker chips)

In simplistic terms, two sides of a metallic mold cavity are slammed together like a sandwich to make the coin-shaped poker chip. Thus the mold of a poker chip is the three dimensional form of the poker chip that is created with this process. There is a lot more to it with edge spots, but that’s the general idea.

The sound of poker chips

You know you’re getting deep into it when you start learning about the sounds poker chips make. It may seem like a superficial concern, but there is a distinctive sound that authentic poker chips make when you rifle thru a stack. It’s one the easiest ways to tell authentic chips from low-end chips. Chip aficionados can recognize the sound of true clay chips from across the room. Listen closely around the poker, craps, or blackjack tables next time you are in a casino.

It’s difficult to precisely explain the sound real clay poker chips make when you rifle thru them. It’s sort of a soft, melodic kalick, kalick, kalick, kalick, kalick... or a longer kalic-lic-lic- lic-lic-lick. Once you hear it, and pay attention, it’s unmistakable.

Authentic ceramic casino chips, which were introduced in the 1980s as an alternative to clay poker chips (for production speed and graphic detail reasons, among others) were created to mimic the sound of clay poker chips, and they are pretty close but have a higher pitch. They sound substantial, but it’s a little different sound.

Low-end chips, especially the widely available 11.5 gram or 13 gram ones with metal inserts, have an entirely different, and sometimes unnerving metallic twing. It’s similar to the sound a metallic driver makes in golf, but a bunch together, rapid-fire. On chips, it just sounds cheap and artificial, especially if you’re used to listening to the real thing.

Putting together a set and choosing denominations

The two things to consider when putting together a poker chip set are how many chips in total, and how many of each denomination.

Recommended poker chip set size

  • 4-5 players typically – 300 chips
  • 6-7 players typically – 400 chips
  • 7-8 players typically – 500 chips
  • 8-10 players typically – 600 chips
  • 10-15 players typically – 1000 chips

For denominations, we recommend you stick with 3 or 4 consecutive denominations (i.e. $1, $5, and $25 chips where each consecutive chip jumps in value 4-5 fold between denominations). If you go with 3 denominations, get quantities with a ratio of 60:30:10 percent from lowest to highest denominations (i.e. on a 500 chip set, you’d get 300x $1 chips, 150x $5 chips, and 50x $25 chips). If you go with 4 denominations, get quantities with a ratio of 40:40:10:10 percent from lowest to highest.

Durability of poker chips

One of the biggest advantages of high-end poker chips is their durability. They are really designed for commercial use in casinos, not for recreational use. As such, they will literally last more than a lifetime in home games, and probably many generations. Most importantly, they are built to retain their beauty with use. Like a rock they just sort of polish with time.

Low-end chips, made out of plastic, are a different story. While they are durable in the sense that it’s difficult to completely destroy them, the soft nature of plastic leads to them becoming quite tattered after a few years use.

Cleaning poker chips

Both our high-end chips (Protege, Archetype) are made to be cleaned. Casinos clean their chips rather frequently. With the heavy use and everything that gets spilled on chips in a casino environment, they won’t touch chips that can not be easily cleaned. The best way to clean them is to use a mild detergent (like the baby detergent Dreft) with water. You can wash them individually, or just dump them into a bucket of soap or water and swish them around a bit. We don’t recommend soaking them for long periods of time, just rather get them in, clean them up, and then dry them off with a non-abrasive towel.

Keep in mind that not all high-end chips on the market can be cleaned. Some clay chips are not even supposed to get wet, so be sure to verify this with the vendor if you get your chips elsewhere.

Oiling chips

If you have high-end clay poker chips and a lot of time on your hands, you may want to consider oiling them. Casino chip collectors have used this little secret to enhance the beauty of their chips for years. It only works on true clay chips, so don’t bother with high- end ceramics nor low-end plastic chips either.

In a nutshell, the idea is to break-in clay poker chips with a labor-intensive oil treatment process that mimics exposure to hand oil (what happens to clay poker chips in a casino environment). You simply rub on, or immerse, the clay chips in mineral oil, let is soak in for a while, and then remove it with a dry rag. The more oil you get on, the more time it takes to remove, so find a happy medium. It’s a very time consuming process that’s about 1 minute per chip, so be aware that doing a set of 500 or 1000 chips is no small task. The result is a finely polished chip that both livens up the chip colors and provides a broken-in feel and sound.

Chip Quality

Chip quality, even in the high-end of the market, is all over the board. Much of the product available on the consumer market is dictated by the manufacturers. On the high-end of the market, most of the manufacturers are focused on the casinos and treat the consumer market as secondary. Unfortunately, the perception is that the consumer market isn’t willing to pay for quality, so the manufacturers produce products along that thinking. On the low- end of the market, there is a fixation on low price. Quality takes a back seat. In both markets, you typically get what you pay for.

Being a leader in high-end poker chips, we pride ourselves in going above and beyond what other retailers and manufacturers offer in terms of quality. We view our company as a producer of poker chips, kind of blurring the lines between retailer and manufacturer. We leverage the expertise of the best manufacturers in the industry to make chips on our own proprietary molds, using our designs, and according to our own high standards.

On true clay chips, which have inconsistencies due to the nature of their compression molding manufacturing process, we hand sort thru the chips our manufacturers produce for us. We sort them into first and second grade chips. Our regular chip packages only ship with chips that we personally approve, and securely repackage ourselves. This is an important distinction because there can be quality control differences from one manufacturer to the next. Doing the QC on our end ensures we only ship the highest quality chips out the door. This raises our costs a bit, but ultimately serves our discriminating customers a much better product.

To maintain our quality leadership, we invest significant amounts of time and money in developing our own proprietary molds that are made specifically to address the needs of home game poker players. For inlay design, we rely on the expertise of top design professionals.

On ceramic chips, where the manufacturing is a much more precise process, we focus 100% on design and graphic detail. As a result, the design on our Archetypes is very highly regarded. In fact, it’s featured prominently in Dealmaster 2.0 (dealer training software) and on the cover of William Poundstone's novel, Fortune's Formula.

The manufacturer that we utilize for our ceramic chips is the best in the industry. They make chips for many top Las Vegas casinos including the Luxor, the Excalibur, Bally’s/Paris, etc. What sets them apart is the clarity and graphic detail. They’re a little more expensive, but they’re leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in the consumer poker chip market, some of which can be downright horrendous in terms of graphic clarity. As unbelievable as it may sound, some relatively expensive ceramic chips in the consumer market even have blurry graphics.

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