I was at a friend’s house recently and the topic of poker came up. During the conversation, he asked me, “can you play poker without chips?” After answering him, the question got me thinking so I did a bit of research and decided to share a few tips on how to play poker without chips.

Poker games are built around wagering or betting. Therefore, unless you are strictly playing for fun you will need some form of currency or monetary substitute available to play with. Otherwise, it is virtually impossible to know who is winning or losing. Almost universally, the most common thing used in lieu of real currency is poker chips.

However, sometimes an impromptu poker game will happen and no actual poker chips will be available. Fear not. You probably have numerous different options to use as an alternative somewhere in your house or place of business. I know because I scoured my house and office for ideas to fulfill the needs of avid poker players when it comes to playing without chips.

Here are a few obvious and maybe not so obvious quasi-poker chip options:

1. Spare Change

Broken Piggy Bank

Okay, so this is the obvious one so I saved it for last since you might have forgotten about your kid’s piggy bank or those coins built up in the center console of your car. Speaking of which, I once built a $4,000 bankroll from the spare change lying around. If I can do it, surely you could use those accidental savings to play a quick game with your family or buddies. Rolls of pennies, nickels, dimes, or all three would serve perfectly. Just make sure you set the parameters ahead of time dictating whether the winner actually gets to keep the money.

2. Play Money

Monopoly Money

Perhaps the most common option that one might have lying around the house is in the form of play money collected from various board games. The most obvious that come to mind are Monopoly, Payday, and the Game of Life. It’s likely that one or more of these types of games are stuffed in a closet or cabinet somewhere. If so, the fake cash will serve you well in a game of poker. Maybe the most fun part of using play money comes from pretending like the money is real and you are a group of high rollers!

3. Board Game Pieces

Scrabble Tiles

While you’re raiding the game closet if you find that you do not have any board games that contain play money all hope is not lost. Many other games contain game pieces that can substitute fairly well for poker chips. Here are a few examples of games that have either some form of chip or other items that can be used as money. Most everyone has at least one of the following games that contain good poker chip substitutes: Othello, Connect 4, Backgammon, and Checkers. In a pinch, one could even bet with Scrabble tiles.

If you have multiple games with reasonably useful game pieces, feel free to mix and match so that you have enough quantity to play poker with. Scrabble tiles could be $1, red Connect 4 chips could be $5, all the way up to using black Othello pieces as $1,000 chips.

4. Dried Foods

Dried Foods

Another option that could upset your significant other is to use common dried foods from the kitchen pantry. Dried beans, corn, and/or legumes work well since they won’t make a huge mess and are typically available in large quantities. You could even boil them up afterward and have some poker chili!

Just be sure not to use any foods that are ready to eat. For most, the temptation is too great and you will probably eat up all the profits. Besides that, who wants to eat an M&M that has been touched by everyone at the poker table. That’s pretty gross.

5. Office Supplies

Color Paper Clips

If you are playing an impromptu game at the office, your options will be limited with no poker chips. Even so, I’m sure there are plenty of items in desk drawers that will do nicely in a poker game. Just make sure the boss isn’t around.

Here are a few things that might be laying around or in a desk drawer:

  • Paper clips (Preferably Color)
  • Tacks
  • Rubber bands
  • Posted Notes (Fold Them)

6. Color Popsicle Sticks

Color Popsicle Sticks

This is a great stackable option that most households, especially those with kids, have stuffed in a drawer somewhere. I recommend cutting each stick into thirds to stretch out the number of “chips” that you have. This will add a nice variety to your game.

If you don’t happen to have color popsicles, then it wouldn’t take long to just write different denominations on each stick. The best way to do it is to give a stack to each player who is tasked with writing on a different amount. Otherwise, you can just have the sticks serve as one single denomination.

7. Garage Items

Nuts Bolts Washers Fasteners

Your typical garage likely has numerous items that can come in multiples and can serve as poker chips. This is especially true if you have a dedicated toolbox that almost always contains a wide assortment of the following:

  • Nuts
  • Bolts
  • Nails
  • Washers
  • Fasteners
  • Electrical Terminals

How Many “Chips” Do You Need to Play Poker?

For most poker games you typically need about 500 poker chips for the game. However, games with 6 players or less can usually get by on 300. This sounds like a lot, but it’s really not since your house or office typically will have a variety of items which can act as a poker chip substitute. Of course, if you have rolls of coins you just evenly distribute them among the players.

What Type of Game Should We Play?

My advice is to only play short stacked cash games or tournaments where the blinds don’t go up. That way you don’t have to round up too many chip replacement items and can just get on with the business of playing poker. After all, your significant other or boss might not appreciate you digging around like a groundhog and making a huge mess!

Assigning Denominations

Without real poker chips available, the best thing you can do is to keep things simple and only use three different poker chip amounts. I would recommend playing 25/50 blinds and giving the following “chips” or denominations that go in a player’s stack:

  • $25- 8 Chips
  • $100- 8 Chips
  • $500- 2 Chip

This setup will give each player $2,000 or 40 big blinds to start with. This allows for an exciting action-packed game. If you need some advice on playing short stacked, I wrote a brief guide with charts that anyone can obtain for free by signing up for my newsletter. Feel free to use my raising ranges or whatever you like so that you can dominate your friends!

What If Someone Runs out of Chips?

If someone busts out, my advice is to let them “rebuy” for a half stack of 20 big blinds or $1,000. That way no one is ever out of the game and some will be able to play deep-stacked as the game progresses.

Alternative Methods of Playing

LAN Party Poker

If everyone in your poker group has access to a computer or even a smartphone/tablet, another option is to play for play money against each other “LAN party” style. There are numerous poker sites out there that offer play money games where you are able to create your own “home game” table to battle against your friends. I recommend Pokerstars since they have the smoothest software and have a way to set up private home games.

Don’t Forget to Use Good Playing Cards

Good playing cards are relatively inexpensive. So, if you can’t afford good poker chips but want to still have a classy game, pick up a quality deck of cards!

For more, don’t miss The 3 Best Quality Poker Chip Set Brands.

Attributions LAN party image by Sanza29 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Jim James

Jim James has over 15 years of experience playing professionally and is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker table. Jim is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker.

Today, he helps other players demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em and has helped countless people become winning poker players through his Online Poker Academy.
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