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Original KEM Plastic Playing Cards Review

Discussion in 'Poker Gear Reviews' started by JustinHEMI04, May 6, 2005.

  1. JustinHEMI04

    JustinHEMI04 Well-Known Member

    Apr 16, 2005
    Likes Received:
    Amsterdam, NY
    Manufacturer: KEM Plastic Playing Cards, Inc. (Bought out by USPC)
    Retailer(s): Kardwell, www.buypokerchips.com, www.pokerchips.com, eBay seach for Kem cards
    Average Price: Original Kem double deck bridge sized cards run from 20-30 dollars, depending on the design. Double deck sets of the Arrow wide design can run from 50 upwards of 100 dollars, or so.
    Material: Cellulose Acetate
    Member Review by: JustinHEMI04

    Original Kem versus plastic/wax coated paper card (Bicycle by USPC) ​
    20-30 dollars for double deck Kem, 50-100+ for wide arrows. I expect prices to climb as cards become more rare. There are already large bidding wars on ebay for the wide Arrow cards. It is also becoming more difficult by the day to find original Kems. The retailer from which I purchased my Kems ran out already. A case of paper cards can be had for 20-30 dollars. Also, Kem cards come in bridge and poker sizes with several different indexes (regular, super, magnum, and 4 pip). With Kem availability dwindling, it should be noted that Bicycle playing cards are very common and can be found anywhere.
    There is no beating the feel of Kem cards. At first, one may think that the cards feel very thin and flimsy. Well, they are thin, as compared to standard paper cards. The Kems are completely smooth to the touch. The Bicycles have some texture, but are not sticky like those cheap wax coated cards that come with those cheap poker chip sets. The Bicycle deck is very slippery when held in the hand. The cards slide very nicely against each other. The Kems are not as slippery, but the cards handle much better than the Bicycles. They also slid a lot better on my tables than the Bicycles. The cheap wax covered cards are the worst. They are sticky to the touch, and they do not slide against each other or my table at all. I have heard of people using baby powder or baking powder to make them slide better, but who wants to go through that mess?
    Original Kem cards come in many many beautiful designs. The hands down favorite is the Arrow design. My favorites also include the Pharaoh and Paisley designs. The Bicycle design is pretty nice too. I would say its a tie between looks, with Kem edging out just a bit because there are many designs available. Additionally, the Kem Ace of Spades is the most beautiful in the world. It is simple, classic, and timeless. You know a Kem when you see it. The Bicycle Ace of Spades is ho hum at best.
    If you have never shuffled a deck of Kem cards, then you do not know what you are missing. There is not a card available that can compare to the shuffling feel of a deck of Kems. It takes some getting used to, since they are thinner than standard paper cards. They make a very soothing sound when shuffled, also. They never bind or get caught on each other, and they flex very nicely. The Bicycles are stiff by comparison. I was unable to achieve a perfect shuffle (one on top of the other) with the Bicycles. However, with the Kems, a perfect shuffle was achieved almost every time. Additionally, after about an hour of playing with the Bicycles, dog ears and bends started to form. I once mis-shuffled and permanently ruined the corner of a card when it was bent to far. As far as the wax cards go, they are simply the worst cards on earth. There is nothing redeeming about these cards. Its very difficult to shuffle them and they hold whatever shape you put them in. They damage very easily and were useless almost instantly.
    The Kems are the most durable cards in the world. I was unable to do permanent damage to the cards, with the exception of the paint ( I will get back to that). I bent a Kem back on itself, and it quickly sprang back to its original shape. After years of use, the deck I was reviewing is still flat. It has not taken on and forms, bends, molds, dog ears, fraying, etc. The Bicycles, after just an hour of play, are useless. Multiple dog ears and fraying and the cards now take on a banana shape. Granted, I handled them more than one would in an average home poker game. Paper cards just don't cut it for the serious game. I tried causing separation in the Kems but it is impossible. One thing about the Kems that I have found easy to damage is the paint. Over the years, I have had to replace several Kem cards due to smudged paint. This was caused by food grease on a players hand and the grease emulsifies the paint. I have seen many many fingerprints in the paint of Kem cards. So if you are going to go with Kem, do as I do and enforce hand cleanliness rules at your games. Something else that lends to Kems durability is the fact that they come in plastic boxes. These boxes will protect your Kems from just about anything. The bicycles on the other hand, come only in their little cardboard box. Kems are also washable. They clean up very easily and include an instruction sheet for cleaning. The bicycles cannot be washed. They soil very quickly and are unrecoverable after just one night of use.
    Reviewers Comments
    I have been using Kem cards for years. Casinos have been using Kem cards for decades. There is none other like them. They are virtually indestructible and will last the average home user a lifetime. So, if you figure the cost of replacing a 2 dollar deck of paper cards every couple of games to that of one double deck of Kem cards, you will see that the Kem cards are a better value in the long run. However, with the closing of the Kem factory and buyout by USPC, original Kem cards are going to very hard to come by. They are going to command premium prices eventually, just like any other gaming collectible. So buy them now while they are available, and buy extras for replacements. I have at least one replacement deck for each of my current decks in play. I will give the Bicycles some credit though. They are some of the nicer plastic coated paper cards that I have played with. They are a good deck to keep in the brief case or in your glove compartment or take on a flight for that impromptu game. I would not count on them for longevity though, and they will cost you more in the long run. As far as the wax cards go, if you get a deck in your china chips, throw them away. Don't even waste your time opening them. It really isn't worth it. If your friend uses them, save him the embarrassment and give him a better deck of cards. Any serious card player should be insulted by having to play with these types of cards. On the same token, anyone who wants to run a serious game with serious people should buy Kem. Why waste hundreds or thousands on nice custom clay chips and poker tables only to play with bad cards? Its like serving box wine with caviar. It is simply a matter of poor taste.

    Bicycle cards on left, various Kem designs on right.


    Kem Boxes


    Ace of Spades


    Kem Bend Experiment


    Bicycle bend experiement


    After the bend experiment


    Bicycle after mis-shuffle

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2006
  2. panthershutch15

    panthershutch15 Well-Known Member

    Mar 21, 2005
    Likes Received:
    Re: Original KEM Plastic Playing Cards

    Original KEM Plastic Playing Cards
    Purchased from: ebay.com
    Price Paid: $30.00

    My first deck of high-quality plastic playing cards was a double deck of original bridge size KEM cards with the Arrow design. One of the best playing cards I've ever handled and still in awesome condition after owning for a 3 years! These rank right up there with Dal Negro and Modiano in my book.

    • Extremely durable cards, should last a lifetime if given proper care
    • Feel: The cards are very thin and flexible, yet extremely hard to damage
    • Good crisp back colors and vibrant, easy-to-read faces that do not fade away.
    • The KEM name is prestigious and known for great quality
    • These cards hold their value over time if taken care of, can be resold for around retail price or even higher
    • Sound: They actually have a real clay sound (sort of)
    • I have had a few instances of receiving bowed cards
    • If not stored properly with card-sized carboard cutouts resting on top of the deck, there is a risk of the cards warping
    • If you damage a card you are out of luck with original KEMs

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