“The guy who invented gambling was bright, but the guy who invented the chip was a genius.” That pithy sentence is usually attributed to Julius “Big Jules” Weintraub, a big gambler who essentially invented the “Vegas junket” for East Coast residents, though I have not been able to identify a reliable primary source for this quotation.

Whoever said it was right — you can play poker with cash, but chips make the game far easier to manage.

Because chips are such a ubiquitous feature of poker, it’s easy to accept their presence without much thought.

But I think there’s a lot that’s worth knowing about poker chips before you sit down at a table full of them.

The first thing to understand is that chips are real money, just in a different form. Weintraub’s observation gets at how easy it is to forget it, and treat chips as mere abstractions.

In The Biggest Game in Town — one of the most articulate and influential books ever written about poker — Al Alvarez mused, “The chip is like a conjurer’s sleight of hand that turns an egg into a billiard ball, a necessity of life into a plaything, reality into illusion.

Players who freeze up at the sight of a fifty-dollar bill, thinking it could buy them a week’s food at the supermarket, will toss two green [$25] chips into the pot without even hesitating if the odds are right.” Successful poker players rely on their weaker opponents losing touch with the equivalence of poker-world chips and real-world money.