Wilson Mizner? Samuel Thomas Hauser? Edward O. Wolcott? Silver Dick? Anonymous? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A self-satisfied gambler once approached a poker table and asked to join the game. The dealer shook his head while saying, “This game is probably too big for you”.
The irritated gambler placed ten large denomination bills on the table. There was a silence. The gambler said haughtily, “Is something wrong with my money?” The dealer counted the bills and said, “You may join us. Please give the gentleman one blue chip.”
There are many variations of this anecdote. Different quantities of money are mentioned, and sometimes the chip is white. The punchline is typically delivered by adventurer, playwright, and rogue Wilson Mizner. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: This tale is difficult to trace because the phrasing is highly variable. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Minneapolis Tribune” of Minnesota in January 1890. The setting was the Silver Bow Club of Butte, Montana. The high-rolling millionaire participants were named Daly, Clark, Hogan, and Hauser. In this version, the eager individual was naïve and not arrogant. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
“Give me a hundred dollars worth of chips,” said he, slapping a crisp $100 bill upon the table.
Daly was running the bank. He sized up the bill and looked surprised, then looked across at Clark. Clark glanced at Hogan and Hogan took a side peep at Hauser. “Well, what’s the matter gentlemen,” said my friend, the tourist, with a bland smile, “ain’t I in the game?”
There was a silent moment. “He wants to know if he’s in the game,” at length said Daly, turning helplessly to Hauser, who sat on his right.
“In the game,” repeated the great mining king, “why of course he’s in the game. Daly, give the gentleman a white chip.”
After that you could not have kept that travelling man in the house with a lasso. In fact he left the town that night on the east bound freight, but he did not join the game.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In March 1890 “The Buffalo Commercial” of New York published an instance while acknowledging the “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Ohio. Again, the setting was Montana: 2
About three weeks before I came here three prominent millionaires, bankers, were at the club, and had a social game of poker. There was a gentleman from the East who had a card to the club for ten days, and knowing one of these gentlemen who were playing asked if he could get into the game One of the parties said. “Yes. Sam, give the gentleman some chips.”
The tenderfoot pulled out $100 bill, threw it on the table and asked for that amount of chips.
Sam pushed him over one white chip, and the gentleman said, “I want a hundred dollars worth.”
Sam said, “That represents a hundred dollars.”
“You mean to say it’s a hundred dollars a chip?”
“That’s what I do.”
“Well, that game is too stiff for me. I guess I am not in.” —[Cincinnati Enquirer.
In 1894 a newspaper in Ohio printed an instance while acknowledging the “Chicago Times” of Illinois. The setting was Washington instead of Montana. The term “drummer” referred to a person who “drummed up” business for a company: 3
A group of millionaires were playing what was probably the stiffest game of poker ever played in the United States. It was at Chamberlin’s, in Washington, in the winter of 1889 and 1890. The exact list of the players will never be known, but Senator Wolcott of Colorado and ex-Governor Hauser of Montana were in it, and Senator Farwell of Chicago was in the room.
About midnight a swell drummer for a Chicago dry goods firm sent up his card to Senator Farwell. The senator went down to see him and brought him up to the room where the game was going on. He introduced him to the other players.
“Have you any objection to my playing?” asked the drummer.
“Well,” said Senator Wolcott, “I have no objection, but—er—well, you see, the game is pretty steep.”
“Ha, ha!” laughed the drummer. “That is the kind of a game I like.”
Ex-Governor Hauser remarked that if he could stand it the rest of the crowd had no objection. With a wink at Senator Farwell, the drummer sat down, pulled out a “wad,” peeled off a $1,000 bill and said to Governor Hauser, who was dealing:
“Give me some chips!” Then he looked around the table, as much as to say: “No flies on me, eh?”
“Give the gentleman one white chip,” said Senator Wolcott. Governor Hauser passed over the chip without a smile and remarked: “Jack pot for $5,000. Put up your money.”
The drummer sat aghast for an instant; then he picked up his money and said: “Too rich for my blood!”
It is currently reported that one man won over $100,000 that night. —Chicago Times.
In 1898 “The San Francisco Call” of California printed an instance set in Denver, Colorado. A traveling employee of Standard Oil Company desired to play poker: 4
“All right,” replied his friend, “I’ll take you down to Silver Dick’s, but they play for pretty high stakes there so you will have to look out.”
“Never mind that part of it,” said the Easterner. “I have got quite a pile with me.” So the two went down to Silver Dick’s, where the man from Boston was introduced to the proprietor, to whom he intimated that he would like to get into the game which was then going on.
“Certainly,” said Silver Dick, without even looking up from his hand. The Easterner then drew forth a crisp fifty-dollar note and with much show dropped it down upon the table, saying “Give me that in chips.” Silver Dick handed him one white chip from the bank. “There you are,” he said, “it is good for just one ante.”
The Easterner looked stupidly about him for a moment and then without taking his seat at the table returned the chip and said, “I guess I will cash in now.”
In 1942 “Thesaurus of Anecdotes” by Edmund Fuller included a version with a supercilious New Yorker attempting to join a game with flinty-eyed Texans: 5
Stepping up brashly, the New Yorker drew out a hundred-dollar bill from his pocket and threw it on the table, saying, “I hear you boys play for big money. Well, give me chips for that.” No one said a word. The dealer motioned him to a chair, looked him coldly in the eye and deliberately pushed across the table at him—one white chip.
In 1944 the industrious anecdote collector Bennett Cerf published an instance of the tale in which Wilson Mizner warned an imperious gambler about the high stakes of a game, but he insisted on joining: 6
“Cut me in here for ten thousand dollars.” Mizner calmly slipped the ten one-thousand-dollar bills into his cash drawer. “Joe,” he commanded, “give the gentleman a blue chip.”
In conclusion, the earliest citations indicated that the tale occurred at the Silver Bow Club in Butte, Montana and the punchline “give the gentleman a white chip” was spoken by mining magnate Samuel Thomas Hauser. Of course, the incident might have been embellished or it might be entirely fictional. In addition, future researchers may find earlier citations depicting a different setting.
Image Notes: Picture of poker chips from annca at Pixabay. The image has been resized and retouched.
- 1890 January 10, The Minneapolis Tribune, Heard About Town, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1890 March 28, The Buffalo Commercial, He Didn’t Chip In (Acknowledgement to “The Cincinnati Enquirer”), Quote Page 5, Column 3, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1894 August 18, The Piqua Daily Call, The Drummer Wilted: A $1,000 Ante In a Senatorial Game Was Too Rich For His Blood, (Acknowledged the Chicago Times), Quote Page 7, Column 2, Piqua, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1898 March 9, The San Francisco Call, One White Chip, Quote Page 6, Column 6, San Francisco, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1942, Thesaurus of Anecdotes by Edmund Fuller, Topic: Card Playing, Quote Page 319, Crown Publishers, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1944, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 231, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩