John Scholvin

John Scholvin

still can’t fit a half-stack in the trunk

28 Feb 2021

poker chips

I spent much of the day sorting through Leah’s old toys to donate or junk, and it was every bit the emotional journey you’d expect. But at the moment, I just can’t bear to write another Big Feels thing about it. So let’s talk about poker chips instead.

At a recent volleyball tournament, Danny was invited to play poker with the other boys, but declined. He doesn’t know how to play, and, wisely, decided maybe that wasn’t the best context1 in which to be educated. We all know how that went in Stripes. Leah doesn’t know how, either, and so I decided that Family Poker Night should be a thing since it’s clear we’re all going to be stuck inside for quite a while longer as Illinois clown cars its way through the vaccine rollout.

I want to take any undue stress out of the learning process, and the first rule there would be not to tie the experience up with losing money. Even if I divvied up my own change bowl and let everyone learn with (literal) house money, I suspect that might still be fraught. And, really, a man of my ilk should own a good set of poker chips. I began researching options.

Research? Options? Come on, John, just go to Target and buy a bag of plastic chips for $10. To which I ask, have you met me? (Well, maybe you haven’t.) The thing is, decent chips are a multi-sensory experience. Most obviously, you want them to be visually appealing, and easy to read their values, if they have them. I felt the learners should have chips with values on them instead of having to track color schemes, etc. You also want to be able to eye an opponent’s stacks across the table and get a quick idea of how much she’s got.

Beyond how they look—in fact, more importantly—it matters how they feel. Poker chips are a fundamentally tactile experience. You want them to be the right weight; heavier is generally but not always better. They should have the right amount of friction so that they stay put when you stack them, but not so much that you can’t easily separate and deal them out as you place bets. Many players spend a lot of time fidgeting with them, and feel matters. Finally, and relatedly, they need to sound right. When you stack them, you want a nice, satisfying click, not a weak tink.

I guess the best way I can put it is that if you’ve ever handled chips at a real casino somewhere, you know what I’m talking about. These are beautiful, carefully made objects that feel hefty yet pleasant in your fingers. You want to keep one as a souvenir when you cash out.

Apparently the makers of poker chips know this is a process that people like me overthink consider carefully, and they helpfully make sample sets of 10-12 chips available for evaluation before you commit to buying a larger set (in my case, 300 chips). I bought three sample sets, pictured above. From top to bottom:

  • Milano. These are pure clay chips, which is generally how real casino chips are made. They sport a somewhat muted color scheme, though I do like the pattern, and the denominations on the center stickers are by far the easiest to read.
  • The Mint. These are a clay/plastic composite with an embedded metal slug for additional mass. They’re by far the heaviest, and the most vividly colored. But it’s hard to discern the numbers with that typeface, and the edges have ridges left over from the manufacturing process. It makes them hard to shuffle.
  • Laurel Crown. These are ceramic chips, with something that feels like bonded, clear plastic stickers on the surfaces for texture. They have the denominations printed on the sides, which is cool, and I like the colors and feel, but ultimately they are way too slippery on top of each other. Bump the table and they’ll scatter.

Milano and The Mint are made by the same outfit, Claysmith Gaming. I couldn’t track down who makes Laurel Crown.

In table form:

name material weight cost (ea) legiblity colors feel other
Milano pure clay 9.6g $0.45 excellent meh excellent the winner
The Mint clay/plastic 12.5g $0.30 poor excellent good ridges on the outsides
Laurel Crown ceramic 9.0g $0.38 meh good poor too slippery

The Milanos are the clear winner here. I suppose you get what you pay for. I wish the colors popped a little more, but there’s only so much pigmentation you can do with pure clay.

The order went in today, and the vital education of the children (and to some extent, Sharon) will commence as soon as possible. Everyone here has a good mind for math, and is fiercely competitive. I expect fun, and probably fireworks. I will report.

  1. You may well have thoughts about the wisdom of having traveled to a sportsball tournament in another state during a pandemic, or of even playing indoor team sports at all. Trust me when I say this wasn’t lightly considered, nor without careful risk management, nor without appropriate precautionary quarantines before and after.  ↩︎