The Effects of Poker Chips on the Mind

Here’s the scenario: You’re sitting at a $5/$10 no-limit game of Texas Hold-em at your local casino. You walked in with $500 and bought several stacks of chips. Now, you’re up to $1000 because you’ve been playing well. You want to leave with at least as much as you came in with. The cards have been dealt, and you have pocket aces—the best possible starting hand. The blinds are relatively low, but the guy sitting to your right bets $200—a huge amount considering the situation. Chances are you have a better hand than him. You should call. No, you should raise. You don’t hesitate. Then, when you flop a third ace, the guy to your right goes all-in for a total of $1000. The odds are in your favor—he’s been playing aggressively the entire game, and at this point, there are maybe two hands that can beat yours depending on what’s on the board. You don’t hesitate to go all-in.

Why not? Why would you not stop to think about such a huge move?

Good players would say that if the odds were right, you should call no matter what. But average players shouldn’t be able to just throw such a huge amount of money away.

But that’s the point, they’re not really throwing money away—they’re throwing chips.

It is much easier to throw $1000 in poker chips into a huge pot than it would be to count out ten $100 bills. The chips aren’t really a form of currency; they don’t really mean anything to the inexperienced player. Sure, they represent money, but they are not money themselves. This allows people to spend days in casinos throwing away countless sums of money on blackjack, poker, roulette, craps, and any other games offered.

The same idea applies to credit and debit cards. People seldom hesitate to swipe their bank cards while they’re at the mall. The conscientious shopper does, of course, but they are the minority. Bank statements and credit card bills come as a shock to people because they don’t keep track of the money they’re spending because they’re not technically spending money; they’re just swiping a card. Writing checks is a similar situation. Short of counting out individual bills, people have a serious issue with comprehending how much money they are spending. This effect is compounded when performing online transactions.

On top of that, I find myself more likely to spend smaller bills than larger bills because it makes me feel like I’m spending less than I actually am.

Until people develop a real sense for how much they are actually spending, they should stay away from credit and debit cards, online shopping, and casinos.

It’s for the best.