TCD students build bitcoin poker site to give power back to players

18 May 2016

A team of computer science students from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has developed a poker site with a difference, in that it is a completely decentralised, peer-to-peer poker site that uses bitcoin to bet.

To get an idea of how much money online poker is making for the largest bookmakers, all you have to do is turn on your TV after the watershed – or during a major sporting event – and count the number of ads asking you to take your hard-earned cash and spend it in the hope of winning a fortune.

The problem is, with so much money floating around, poker sites have become major targets for those looking to gain access to account holders, with news last year that members of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker had found themselves the victim of harmful malware.

Total fairness among players

With this in mind, a group of computer science students from TCD has begun working on a completely decentralised, peer-to-peer poker site that will operate without the need for a trusted-third-party hosting site.

To play a game of bitcoin poker, every player would 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 of the cards on the virtual table, all players would then need to decrypt that card in a cycle in order to ensure complete fairness among everyone in the game.

The crucial aspect of this decentralised poker site, however, is that it uses the cryptocurrency bitcoin to bet, which allows for the application of a cryptographic algorithm to ensure fairness of the card deal and money distribution.

Free from governmental meddling

Explaining the concept in greater detail, the team of students said that there are a number of advantages over current poker sites, which are not decentralised or based on bitcoin transactions.

For example, 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.

Also, the team pointed out traditional poker websites have a policy of charging large transaction fees and fees for hosting games, but playing with bitcoin and a secure algorithm would allow for fee-free games.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for those wishing to play poker in countries that do not allow poker to be played, bitcoin and other decentralised technologies are not hosted in any one country.

‘May have far-reaching implications’

By existing as a distributed network, many governmental restrictions would no longer apply, which would allow for a new global player pool.

Eamon McNamee, one of the students involved in the site, said of the team’s work: “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.”

Poker table image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic