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Computer Science Students Aim to Build World's First Decentralised Poker Site

23 May 2016

Computer science students from Trinity College Dublin are working to build a completely decentralised, peer-to-peer poker site that will operate without the need for a trusted-third-party hosting site. The platform will use Bitcoin as currency, for betting purposes, and implement a cryptographic algorithm to ensure fairness of the card deal and money distribution.

The team behind the project believes the creation could revolutionise the multibillion-dollar online poker industry. Using Bitcoin and cryptography for a decentralised poker site would have several advantages over current centrally hosted sites:

1. Trust: players would no longer have to trust a central site to ensure fairness as the algorithm that shuffles and deals the cards is verifiably fair. There have been many occasions in the short history of online poker where sites have abused this trust and players’ money has been stolen.

2. Table 'rake' fees: sites charge a very large fee for transferring money and for hosting games. If this can be replaced by using Bitcoin and a secure algorithm, games could be essentially fee-free.

3. Government regulation: online poker has become increasingly regulated internationally, which has segregated the world player pool into smaller markets by country. Similar to Bitcoin, and other decentralised technologies that are not hosted in any one country but instead exist as a distributed network, many of these restrictions would no longer apply, which would allow for a new global player pool.

The basic protocol of the Trinity team’s idea requires every player to encrypt and shuffle the card deck before the game to ensure that nobody has any knowledge of the order of the cards, or of which cards his opponents are dealt. To view any card, all players must first decrypt that card in a cycle. The game is entirely transparent as all players can verify the fairness and correctness of the cards after each hand completes.

Bitcoin's decentralised payments and irreversible, transparent transactions are essential to the solution as poker demands money to be committed as soon as each bet has been placed. This means that no player can cheat by exiting a game early or requesting a refund if they don't like the look of their cards.

While studying at Trinity in his 4th Year, Computer Science student Eamon McNamee used this technology to create a proof-of-concept poker game between two players. He approached the issue from a research perspective, but in doing so was also able to assess its potential viability for industry purposes.

Eamon McNamee said: “Poker is a perfect example of a fundamentally trust-based game. With the advent of Bitcoin, a cryptographic solution to a fair, decentralised, poker network is entirely possible. This idea may have far-reaching implications in other trust-based industries, such as banking, as we have already seen the decentralisation of information transfer and money transfer with technologies like BitTorrent and Bitcoin.”

Professor of Computer Science in the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity, Donal O’Mahony, is overseeing the investigations.

He said: “This is a great example of students combining fundamental work in cryptography with clever bitcoin payment techniques to produce a really novel service. Similar trust problems exist in many financial transactions and I believe this idea will find applications in some surprising places.”

Decentralised online poker is viewed as an inevitable next step for the industry. The music industry has evolved to file-sharing online practices, but it remains to be seen how the online-poker industry will adapt and reorganise to such a change.

Media Contact:

Thomas Deane, Press Officer for the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science | | 01 896 4685