The Blue Chips (a Poker Zoo story)

Dear reader: I wrote three Poker Zoo stories back when online poker was brand new, and no-limit hold’em had not made its way into the casinos yet.


It was noontime at the Poker Zoo and the $20-40 limit hold’em game was soon to start. The six regular players were milling about in their regular ways, sipping their regular beverages, locking up their regular seats, when The Ruling Rhino approached the table with house chips. So far, everything was normal, except for the chips. For all these years they had been red. But today, they were blue. And instead of saying $5 in the middle, they said $10.

Rhino spoke firmly: “Players, players, listen up now. Listen up. I have an important announcement to make.” The players gathered slightly in and listened slightly up. “Starting today, the $20-40 game will be played with $10 chips.”

Rhino clunked a square, transparent carrying case in the middle of the table. Inside it was ten full racks of poker chips, two stacks of five racks each. Everyone stared. No one had ever seen such a thing as blue chips before. Rhino’s excitement was mixed with fear, for he knew, from long experience, that his customers would resist the change.

The Logical Llama was first to complain. “Whatever your reasoning is behind all this, it is surely flawed.”

The Tragic Trout said to all the world, “I do not know how this will cost me, or how much, but I am certain that it will.”

The Snide Snake replied, “I can tell you how. Fewer chips will go into each pot and that means more hands will be dealt per hour and that means more rake for the house.”

The Dealing Dog sat.

The Nimble Newt pretended to not be listening.

“And more bad beats for me,” Trout added.

The Yammering Yak began, “I think we should keep the bets at four chips and eight chips, using red chips, the same as $20-40 hold’em online, to make the game more familiar and therefore welcoming to guys like me who started out on the internet because y’know, maybe if you all were a little friendlier to new folks, maybe you’d get more players. I am quite certain that—”

“I am quite certain that you all will like the blue chips just fine,” interrupted Rhino. “Especially after you see how they make the game simpler and faster.”

Llama automatically recycled the words simpler and faster through his brain, and he could find no flaw. He realized that if he had to debate against the change to $10 chips, his best arguments would be based on, egad, emotional appeal.

Argument One: The Poker Zoo should continue to use $5 chips for $20-40 simply because We Have Always Done It That Way. This argument was no good, as Llama well knew, having dismantled it during The Great Smoking Debates.

Argument Two: The players want lots of poker chips in their poker pots because it’s more fun that way. Excuse me? Did someone say “fun?” As a purpose behind a policy? This was wholly unacceptable in Llama’s world. And besides, he thought, simpler really is better, for the players, and for the house, and so is faster.

“I am willing to give the new chips a fair trial,” Llama said, magnanimously.

The Bumbling Bee was last to speak up, “But won’t this make the pots twice as small?”

And with that, Rhino collected cash and distributed chips and the game was underway.

Trout bought in for $200. On the first hand, he was dealt jack-ten suited and he lost $140, leaving him with $60 at the start of the second hand, when all hell broke loose.

Llama was under-the-gun with pocket kings, both red. He opened with a raise. Yak folded. Trout was next with two black sevens. Yesterday he would have called Llama’s raise with eight red chips. Today, the same call required only four blue chips. After Trout called $40, he had two blue $10 chips remaining.

Bee was next, on the button. She had 8-7 of clubs, one of her calling hands. She saw Llama and then Trout put out four chips, so she did too, thinking she was limping along with the others, when actually she had called a raise.

Snake folded his small blind. Next was Newt in the big blind, with ace-jack suited. He called and four players were in for the flop.

The flop was A-9-6, all spades. Newt’s ace-jack gave him a pair of aces. Llama still had two kings. Trout had the only flush draw, with the spade seven. And Bee’s 8-7 gave her an open-end straight draw.

Newt checked. Llama sighed to himself and checked. Trout splashed his last two chips into the pot and declared, “I bet twenty. And for the first time today, I’m all-in.”

Bee did not see Trout’s chips enter the pot, but she heard his words. And because Bee’s attention span is barely longer than a pollen sac, she was again temporarily unaware that there had been a change in chip-denomination today. Intending to call Trout’s $20 bet, the Bumbling Bee put out four chips, as if it were yesterday. But what she had done, today, was raise to $40.

Newt was next. One of his eyes swiveled left, looking at Llama, suspiciously, because Llama had raised before the flop and then checked when checked to. Newt’s other eye was angled right, at Bee, who, even more suspiciously, had now raised the flop, smoothly, in perfect position to isolate the all-in player, as if deploying expert strategy and mechanics.

Newt figured Bee either made a monster or a mistake, and Newt was not interested in paying several more bets to find out which. Plus, he had two other opponents to deal with, and one of them was unbluffably all-in. Newt decided to wait for a better investment opportunity, and folded.

Facing a bet and a raise with pocket kings and an ace on board, Llama emphatically folded face up in a fit of unfulfilled entitlement.

And then there were two, Trout and Bee, with the betting complete and more cards to come. The Dealing Dog corralled the pot and tossed two chips back to Bee. Bee’s surprise at the rebate was obvious to all, confirming Newt’s conjecture, and initiating Llama’s awareness, that Bee had intended to merely call Trout’s bet on the flop, not raise it.

The turn card paired the ace, and the river paired the nine. The final board was: A-9-6, A, 9.

Bee turned over her 8-7. Her hand was aces and nines with an eight. Trout flipped his hand up. His pocket sevens gave him aces and nines with a seven. Not enough.

“Two pair with the eight kicker wins it,” said the Dealing Dog, trying to keep a straight face, as he pushed the pot to Bee.

Newt knew he would have won this pot with aces-full if Bee had not accidentally checkraised the flop. And he knew the cause of the mishap. It was the blue chips. But he said and did his usual nothing.

Llama, however, was unaware of the strength of Newt’s folded hand. In Llama’s mind, what should have happened was this: Everyone checks to Trout on the flop and he bets $20 all-in. Bee calls, as intended. Newt folds. Llama calls one bet because now he’s headsup on the side against Bee who readily checks it down. On the turn, Llama checks and Bee checks. On the river, Llama checks again, and Bee checks again. Llama turns over pocket kings and wins the whole pot.

Llama, like Newt, knew that the blue chips had cost him this pot. Unlike Newt, Llama could not silently endure the injustice of it all. “Rhino! Get over here!” he shouted.

Rhino arrived, ready for trouble.

“This is ridiculous,” said Llama. “The blue chips are ruining the game. I don’t know why you have to keep trying to improve everything. We were perfectly fine before. I’m leaving now, to go play at the Poker Barn, where the chips are the right color. Anyone else coming?”

Snake nodded along vigorously with Llama’s words, and stood up. While Llama and Snake racked up, three of the other four players were looking around, for empty racks, and at each other, as if asking, “Are we really about to mutiny?”

The other player, the Bumbling Bee, was very busy. She was maneuvering her $1 tip-chips in some sort of abacus fashion, to assist calculating how much her recently expanded collection of $10 chips was worth.

The Ruling Rhino was raging within. He looked to the Dealing Dog for guidance and he was met with waiting eyes. Dog shot back a look of respectful resignation, as if to say, “This is your call to make, of course, but if it was me, I’d go get the red chips, right now.”

Rhino said to the table, “Alright, alright. Have it your way. I’ll bring the red chips back out. But it’s really too bad that you are all too stubborn to appreciate innovative ideas.”

“I got an innovative idea for you,” said the Snide Snake. “Maybe you could sell the blue chips in the gift shop for eleven bucks each.”

Rhino stomped off and returned with two chip-carrying cases. One full of empty racks. The other loaded with red chips. “Let’s get this done,” Rhino said to Dog, and Dog distributed empty racks.

“But I like the blue chips!” Bee said. “I just figured them out!”


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