Sure, running a home poker game might seem like a breeze, but that's only because experienced tournament directors like Matt Savage know their casino chips from potato chips. Every poker game relies on three things: a table, a deck of cards, and some chips.
When it comes to finding a poker table and a deck of cards, there isn't too much you need to know. However, when it comes to poker chips, it's a different story.
To ensure you've got the right quantity, quality, and collection of poker chips, you need to establish your intentions and, moreover, what's available. With this in mind, we've compiled a complete guide to poker chips and how you can use them to host the perfect home game.
As with all things in life, the market for chips is a varied place. In fact, depending on your budget and preferences, there will be a chip set to suit your needs. To help you find the perfect set, there are three main things you need to consider:
You're a first-time buyer and you're using our resources to find the right chip set for your next home game. One of the first questions you need to ask is: what's the level of competition? For example, if it's a quick home game, you wouldn't use the most expensive chips on the market. Similarly, if you're inviting round some pros, you wouldn't give them the thinnest chips you could find.
Based on this, there are three common scenarios you should consider:
For those times when the action off the felt is just as important as the action on it, the best option is plastic chips. To an experienced player, the featherlight feel of these discs might be a little off-putting, but the aim here is to host a game as cheaply as possible. Indeed, if your players are interested in having fun and not taking things too seriously, you need to opt for plastic chips. Your best bet in these situations is to buy a complete set that contains around 300 chips, a carry case and a deck of cards for around $25.
If you're someone that's planning to host a regular game with a mixture of skill levels, composite poker chips are perfect. With weights ranging from 11 grams up to 15 grams, you'll not only find a set that feels solid but one that won't bust your bankroll. Unmarked composites are the most common and usually come in packs of 25 for ease, which means you have the flexibility to set your own denominations.
If you're playing for big money, it's probably a good idea to invest a little more and buy some professional-grade poker chips. Clay chips are often used in high stakes cash games. With this in mind, we'd suggest a something like a 9-gram Super Diamond chip. Available in ten colors, these chips aren't marked and have a solid feel to them. For something a little weightier, the 14-gram Monte Carlo is great for cash games as it has dollar amounts printed on each face. However, it's important to remember that the better quality, the more a chip costs.
Once you've decided on the standard of your game, the next thing you need to focus on is chip quantity. Having enough chips to cover all eventualities is crucial, which is why it's a good idea to use a calculator. Just as you'd use a poker calculator to better understand your odds in a given hand, you can use a poker chip calculator to workout the perfect ratio of tokens to players.
Download our free chips calculator sheet and use it to organize all of your home games.
For those that don't like to take any calculations at face value, you'll need to think about the type of game you're going to host in order to determine how many chips you need. In general, poker chips are sold in the following batches:
Additionally, you can buy readymade poker kits that typically give you 300 chips. For the average poker game with 5+ players, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 chips should be a sufficient number. However, for a more accurate figure, think about how many people will actually be in action and then the type of game you're running.
If you're hosting a single table tournament, you'll usually start with 6 to 10 players. Assuming you start with a fairly standard $1,500 stack made up of high and low value chips, you can get away with using around 10-15 chips per person. Similarly, if you were running a multi-table tournament, you could start with a stack worth $3,000 and give each player 20-30 chips.
If you're hosting a cash game, it's likely you're going to need more chips with smaller values. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, players will often start 100 big blinds deep (at least). Secondly, players like to change bigger chips into smaller denominations in order to make their stack look more imposing. So, even if you were hosting a $200 buy-in game, don't be surprised if most players want at least $50 in $1 and $2 chips.
On top of this, cash is usually allowed in ring games, as are plaques if you're playing for high stakes. In the case of the former, players will expect change when they put notes onto the table, which means you not only need chips for every player, but some in reserve. Finally, cash games can often go on indefinitely and, as people will rebuy, stacks get deep. So, in this instance, we'd suggest having at least 1,000 chips for a cash game.
Once you've established the quality and quantity of chips you need, the final thing to consider is the colors you'll be using. Again, this really depends on the table dynamics. In cash games, the number of colors you'll require will be fairly limited. Indeed, because the blinds never change and you don't have to “color up,” it's possible to get away with using between 3 and 5 colors.
In tournaments, however, you need a lot more. As we've mentioned, the increasing blinds means that players will be forced to use higher value chips as the action progresses. For example, if everyone starts with $1,500 and the blinds are at $10/$20, it's fine to use $10 and $25 chips. However, by the time the blinds get to $500/$1,000, the smaller value chips start to become less important. Because of this, you need to cover as many bases as possible.
If you're running a fairly large multi-table tournament, we'd suggest covering all the color possibilities:
Of course, the quantity of each color will differ depending on your circumstances. However, as a general rule, you'll want more of the low and middle value chips than the highest value tokens. Beyond this, you'll need to think about your chip distribution, which we'll discuss in the following section.
The distribution of poker chips you'll require is all dependent on how long you want the game to last, how many players are playing and whether it's a freezeout or rebuy. For example, if you want to play a quick freezeout with a few friends, you can get away with using a small number of chips and not worry about coloring up. In contrast, if you're hosting a rebuy with a fairly slow clock and 20+ players, you'll need more chips and, importantly, you'll need to color up.
Because the second scenario is the most complex, we're going to focus on that in this section. Of course, if you want a quick and easy answer to your chip conundrum, you can simply use the cheat sheets below and determine your perfect stack sizes. Doing this will not only show you how many chips players should start with, but the blinds sheet will allow you to note when it might be necessary to color up.
For those that don't know, poker tournaments are all about increasing blind levels. To generate action and ensure there's a winner in an acceptable amount of time, the forced antes will increase at set intervals. In a live game, a 20-minute clock in a multi-table tournament is considered fairly swift, while 1-hour levels are fairly standard. Anything over 1 hour would be a slow clock.
Because the blinds are gradually increasing, it means that smaller value chips become less significant as the things move on. For this reason, it's important to have a wide distribution of chip values so that you can color up at certain intervals. In simple terms, coloring up means that you are replacing low value chips with higher value ones more suited to the size of the blinds.
The aim of coloring up is exchange an even number of smaller denomination chips for equivalent value larger denominations. However, in situations where there is an odd number left, players can race for an extra chip. In simple terms, a race requires the organizer to collect all the leftover chips and place them in the middle. This number represents the quantity of higher value chips up for grabs. For example, if there are ten $5 chips in the middle, the organizer would swap them for two $25 chips.
Once the chips have been set, the players that contributed to the pot will be dealt cards equal to the number of chips they put into the pot e.g. three $5 chips = three cards, four $5 chips = four cards etc. After the deal is complete, the two players with the highest value cards win the two chips in the middle and normal play resumes.
As the name suggests, this technique simply requires the organizer to round-up a player's small chips. For example, if they had $20 and the chips being introduced were worth $25, they'd exchange $20 for $25. In reality, this system only works if the difference between the chips being exchanged and introduced is small i.e. if you're removing $5 chips for $100 chips, rounding up could give some players a lot more chips than they previously had.
As we've already mentioned, cash games usually involve deep stacks, static blinds, and rebuys. This means you'll need a large number of chips. However, because the antes don't increase (unless the players agree to a change), you don't need to worry about coloring up. The benefit of this is that you won't need a rainbow of colors on the table.
In reality, the main thing you need to worry about in a cash game is change. Players will bring cash to the table, use large chips to call small bets and generally like to have a lot of small value chips in play. Because of this, it's a good idea to have a lot lower denomination chips thank higher value tokens. As a general guide, we'd suggest the following set-up for a standard cash game:
Although we've tried to give you as much information about poker chips as possible, it's never a bad idea to take advantage of our resources on offer. By checking out some of the downloadable cheat sheets you'll be able to find the poker chip set up to make your next home game a success:
You can read more about the evolution of poker chips on our History of Poker Chips page.
Before we leave you to explore our poker chip calculators and put your newfound knowledge into practice, we want to leave you with a bit of trivia. Indeed, as important as poker chips are at the table, they can also be used for a bit of fun away from it.
There are poker sets and then there are poker sets. Although we've outlined some of the common options out there depending on your needs, there are some chips that are worth a lot more than the denominations printed on their faces. Don't believe us? Well, here's a quick look at three of the most expensive chip sets in history:
The Geoffrey Parker Poker Set: $7.5 million Ivory might not be in the best taste, but the five dice in this game do provide a nice addition to the silky-smooth cards and chips crafted in 18 karat white gold and encrusted in diamonds, sapphires and more.
The Meteorite Poker Set: $150,000 Ivory might not be in the best taste, but the five dice in this game do provide a nice addition to the silky-smooth cards and chips crafted in 18 karat white gold and encrusted in diamonds, sapphires and more.
The Cartier Poker Set: $30,000 Designed as a tribute to one of the most famous jewelers in history, this set has a unique design that will make any home game look slick. Even though the chips aren't laced with precious metals and stones, the styling is some of the best around.
Beyond using poker chips to play poker or as a collector's item, some people like to get creative with their stacks. Whether it's on the table or away from it, there some fantastic pieces of artwork that have been built from a handful of chips:
Liu Jianhua'S Chip City From skyscrapers to city streets, artist Liu Jianhua left no stone unturned when he pieced together one of the most impressive chip stacks of all-time.
Chris Ferguson's Stack He's known in the poker world as Jesus and following a tournament win in the early noughties, Ferguson performed a minor miracle by creating a neat little chip sculpture.
Carlos's Crazy Chips Spanish poker pro Carlos Mortensen is known for being creative with his chips and during the WSOP he often liked to indulge his passion with stacks like this one.
So, that's about all you need to know about poker chips. As long as you keep in mind what we've said and use the tools outlined in this guide, you should be well on your way to having a well-stocked and enjoyable home game, whatever your preferences.