There are literally thousands of poker chip retailers online, but it is important to understand what you are buying. Our poker chips article explains the two main types and origins of the gaming chips that are for sale to home game players. If you are still uncertain whether to purchase the "cheap" Chinese chips or go all out and spend upwards of 5 - 10 times as much for a high quality clay poker chip set, then this poker chips guide should help.
Most respectable poker chip retailers will sell you a "sample" set of their chips before you commit to purchasing an entire set. If you do happen to get hold of some sample chips, use the following tests before making up your mind on what to buy.
Some chips (mostly custom chips) have a printed inlay or stick on label. Try to peel it off with your fingernail and then try a knife. Is it set into the chip or stuck on top of the chip, would a nervous fingernail pull it off during a game.
Does the print scratch off easily? Is there a clear layer that will come away with extended use? Dip one in water and then leave it out overnight, will it be ruined if someone's wet beer hand touches them? Are the labels in the center of the chip? If you have a full face label, does the design line up with the edge spots? Grab the knife and have a stab at the label, does it mark or scratch?
Hot Stamped Chips
Hot-stamped chips usually have gold text stamped on them, representing values or branding. Check to see if this rubs off or gets dirty when you rubs two chips together. Also try to scratch it off using your fingernail and a knife.
Some makes of poker chips have quite sharp, square edges, others have softer edges, and some chips, such as the Modern Clay, come with intentionally pre-rounded edges to give the chips that 'worn in' feeling. If you smash the chips edges against each other a few times to see if the edges mark or get dents. If they do mark and dent, it is probably the sign of a better quality clay chip however they should not mark so badly that the chip is mutilated. The "All In" clay chip is quite soft, if you push these together you can actually make a deep mark in the chip.
Stacking / Face Texture
It is hard to guage the stacking ability of a certain chip with only one or two of a specific style. Generally, clay chips stack a lot better than the cheaper plastic or composite chips. I was lucky enough to have tested certain types of chips before I bought mine. The cheaper Chinese plastic composite chips are stackable slip over very easily, where as the Nevada Jacks type clay composite you can stack 100 chips high or finger to finger horizontally with no problems.
Try that with even 15 of the plastic type and enjoy picking them up off the floor. If you are lucky enough to have a few of each chip, put them on top of each other and see how easily they slide off each other. If you cant tell by pushing them flat, hold on to the bottom chip, place another on top and slowly tip your chips on an angle till one slides off. This will also be influenced by the weight of the chip, so please be mindful of all elements when performing tests.
Scratch the chip
With another chip, your fingernail, and then a key or knife, try to scratch and then gouge the surface. The surface of the chip is made of clay, clay composite, ABS plastic, or a ceramic material. Note what instrument leaves a mark, note how easy or hard it was to scratch? Consider the look of chips that now have a contrasting color underneath. How will your chip set look after 100 hours of play? Would the scratch marks soften, fill with dirt or blend in over time?