Bitcoin and poker have a history that stretches back to the very start. Perhaps, even, to before the start of Bitcoin as we know it, for there is evidence that Satoshi had a background in poker.
What’s beyond dispute is that in March 2010, the world’s first bitcoin poker tournament took place, with the nascent digital currency serving as the unit of account. The buy in was set at 50 BTC, with the victor walking away with the then-worthless prize of 1,000 BTC.
“BitcoinFX” was an early Bitcointalk forum user whose claims to fame include establishing the first bitcoin to fiat exchange, which operated by email only, in 2010. That same year, BitcoinFX achieved another first when he organized the first bitcoin poker game.
In a thread posted March 10 titled “The Worlds First Sudo-Anonymous Poker Tournament”, BitcoinFX wrote: “I’ve decided to run a tournament with Bitcoins ! No ‘real’ money will change hands.”
The World’s First Pseudonymous Poker Game
At the time, bitcoin was as close to worthless as it was possible to get, at least when measured in fiat currency terms, with the best estimates pricing 333 BTC to a dollar. To its early adopters, though, bitcoin was already immensely valuable; it’s just that it would take some time for the rest of the world to catch on. In the meantime, there were use cases to be developed, fun to be had, and “electric bottle tops” to be won as BitcoinFX described the coins that would be wagered in his inaugural tournament.
The forum post announcing the first bitcoin poker game
The Half a Million Dollar Buy-In
It is disingenuous to calculate 2010’s BTC by today’s prices. Nevertheless, let the record show that if the game that took place on March 20, 2010 were to be repeated today, the 50 BTC buy-in would set you back over $500,000. As it was, it was priced at the coinbase reward for discovering a new block, and in early 2010, anyone could mine bitcoin on their computer’s CPU.
“I will be playing and hosting the game and providing the 1000 Bitcoin added prize pool”, wrote BitcoinFX. “You are trying to win my Bitcoins … Please PM me with your Bitcoin address and a random ‘username’. I will then PM you my Bitcoin address to send the 55 Bitcoin entry fee.” In the event, four players participated in the world’s first bitcoin poker game which took place at 3PM EST on March 20, 2010. User “dwdollar”, creator of the first bitcoin exchange, won the tournament, walking away with 600 BTC. Bitcointalk and later r/bitcoin moderator Theymos finished second, earning 325 BTC.
How Bitcoin and Poker Became Bedfellows
Following the inaugural bitcoin poker game, follow-up tournaments were planned on the forum and IRC. “Until a Bitcoin poker client is set up we will need to manually transfer all entry fees and winnings”, noted user “FreeMoney” in July 2010. What they, and most other bitcoiners, didn’t know is that Bitcoin had already shipped with a poker client of sorts built in. The original Bitcoin code includes the beginnings of a virtual poker game that Satoshi is believed to have started but never finished. Its code is neatly annotated with comments such as “These are your Bitcoin addresses for receiving payments. You may want to give a different one to each sender so you can keep track of who is paying you.”
Did Satoshi have a background in gambling, and was this his inspiration for creating Bitcoin? He never alluded to it in his public writings, but it seems credible. Although Black Friday, when the U.S. government shut down the web’s three largest poker sites, didn’t occur until 2011, by the time Bitcoin came along, online poker was already massive, and already plagued with problems caused by payment processors that were apt to pulling the rug from under their users at the behest of the U.S. If Satoshi had been a poker player, he would have recognized the value that an unseizable P2P currency could bring to the industry.
Intriguingly, possible Satoshi candidate Paul Le Roux “had dabbled in the online gambling business for years and had even built his own casino software”, notes the man who knows him best, biographer Evan Ratliff, who also suggests a connection between Le Roux and gambling mogul Calvin Ayre. All that is conjecture though. What can be said for certain is that efforts such as the poker game hosted by BitcoinFX in 2010 were instrumental in driving use cases for bitcoin. March was to prove a busy month for BTC; three days before the game was held, the first bitcoin exchange had gone live. Bitcoin was a little over a year old, but already the pieces were falling into place that would shape the greatest financial revolution of modern times.