It’s more elusive than Paris Hilton’s integrity or Justin Bieber’s parting, but it is possible to get hold of a real clay poker chip in Britain.
The main problem is that British retailers play fast and loose with terminology. They often describe chips as “real clay” and “casino quality” when they aren’t, and the only difference between their standard and premium chips is weight. According to sites such as pokerchips.co.uk and drinkstuff.com, the heavier the chip, the better. But players hoping to emulate the Las Vegas experience should know that American casino chips rarely exceed 10g, not the 11.5g or 15g chips punted by British websites.
The other confusing issue is that there is no such thing as a pure clay poker chip, which would fall apart pretty quickly. “Real clay” poker chips are a composite of minerals and plastic, but there are composites and composites. Here is the hierarchy:
1. Compression-moulded chips made from clay mixed with tiny pieces of metal and coated with a thin film of plastic. They’re about 10g each and the weight comes from the density of the material. The coloured “edge spots” are not surface decorations, but bits of differently coloured clay inserted into holes punched in the chip before it is franked. This is the type of chip used by casinos.
2. Injection-moulded chips with metal inserts. These are also known as “composite” or ABS plastic chips. They may contain some minerals to give the plastic a rough feel, but the weight comes from a metal disc inside. The edge spots are surface decorations. Any website that claims these are premium chips does not really know what it is talking about.
3. Plastic chips with no inserts, which have all the authenticity and gravitas of a tiddly wink.
At the time of writing I can find no British retailers of compression-moulded chips. I can’t even find any wholesalers. So-called premium chips are universally injection-moulded ones, which cost about £25 for a set of 300 including delivery. To get 300 compression-moulded chips costs about £160 all told and requires a prolonged, if pleasant e-mail exchange with pokerchips.com, an American company.
The chips themselves cost $180, but delivery is a further $70 for the American side and £13.50 for the British end. There is no duty to pay, but VAT comes to about £21. It also required a befuddling foray into the world of European Union commodity codes (9504909000, since you ask) and a journey to the Parcelforce depot in Charlton, a land of unfeasibly large superstores specialising in sportswear and cheap furniture that brings to mind the bleaker scenes of the Mad Max trilogy.
Was it worth it? I’m not sure. The real clay chips do have a nicer feel. They make a more satisfying clinking sound and are less slippery, making them better for tricks and stacks. But it is hard to justify the 600 per cent price difference unless you’re one of those bachelors who must have a wider television, more retro fridge or bustier girlfriend than your mates.