Tweets have consequences
A series of tweets over the weekend from the mercurial mega-billionaire Elon Musk put even more fuel on the fire of what looks increasingly like his own witch-burning ceremony. The SpaceX and Tesla CEO has blown hot and cold on cryptocurrencies in recent months, helping to generate bull markets in Bitcoin and Dogecoin, but his recent comments and actions are now being blamed for precipitous price falls.
As the price of Bitcoin plummeted Sunday night, British poker pro Patrick Leonard pondered how much the high stakes poker community might have lost, framing it against the backdrop of the buy-in of the tournament they were all likely playing.
The reaction from the poker community all across social media can only be described as incandescent, as a fiddle-fingered one-word Twitter response from the world’s wealthiest person seemingly provoked a panicked sell-off, wiping literally $75 billion off the market cap of Bitcoin in about nine hours.
Cryptocurrency: A brief history
In 1983, David Chaum developed a cryptographic system called eCash. In 1995, he developed another system called DigiCash, this time using cryptography to make economic transactions confidential. In 1998, Wei Dei took the crypto-movement a step further when he published his paper “b-money, an anonymous, distributed electronic cash system,” in which he outlined “.…a scheme for a group of untraceable digital pseudonyms to pay each other with money and to enforce contracts amongst themselves without outside help.” Decentralization was the key feature of this proposed “cryptocurrency.”
In 2008, the financial crash created the perfect economic situation for developers to illustrate the need for cryptocurrency. Enter Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency invented by Satoshi Nakamoto. Nakomoto was heavily influenced by Dai and referred to “b-money” in his white paper for Bitcoin. He also worked with Adam Back, now CEO of the blockchain technology company Blockstream and the inventor of the proof of work system “HashCash,” which is now used in the Bitcoin mining process. The currency began use on January 3, 2009 when its implementation was released as open source software.
the total market value of cryptocurrencies pushed past $2 trillion for the first time”
Since then, thousands of contenders have stepped into the space as the use and investment in different crypto currencies has exploded. In July 2015, Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Wood went live with Ethereum, a cryptocurrency boasting smart contract functionality. It quickly emerged as the only real rival to Bitcoin, settling into its position as the second largest cryptocurrency. Over the past decade, according to Bloomberg: “the total market value of cryptocurrencies pushed past $2 trillion for the first time [in April 2021], doubling in about two months amid surging institutional demand. Bitcoin, the largest of the more than 6,600 coins tracked by CoinGecko, is worth more than $1 trillion.”
At the time of writing, Bitcoin’s market cap is $843bn, while Ethereum’s is $406bn.
Poker and cryptocurrency
Leading the charge as early adopters to cryptocurrency has been the poker world. The built-in anonymity, transaction speed, and overall convenience made it an attractive payment processing solution, particularly for grey market sites looking to get round the UIGEA and other financial regulations. The Winning Poker Network (WPN), for example, started accepting cryptocurrency deposits in 2014 and currently allows users to withdraw in Bitcoin when cashing out. These days, WPN purportedly buys upwards of $100m in bitcoin per month to meet demand from players.
Another poker platform that has embraced the crypto crossover is Virtue Poker. This Ethereum-based poker provider is the first blockchain-based entity to be allowed to legally operate in multiple markets after it got a gaming license from the Malta Gaming Authority earlier this year. Virtue Poker stakeholder and brand ambassador Phil Ivey is excited for the company’s future, as is CEO Ryan Gittleson.
“Blockchain technology provides modern and secure payment infrastructure that provides global accessibility to consumers, unlike our competitors,” explained Gittleson. “By working with regulators to become a licensed online gambling company, Virtue Poker now has legitimacy to crossover and compete for customers from legacy providers to bring blockchain based wagering mainstream.”
Backed by Consensys, the blockchain software technology company founded by Ethereum contributor Joseph Lubin, Virtue Poker is clearly on a mission to make blockchain-based betting mainstream.
While cryptocurrency has become a mainstay of the payment processing side of the poker ecosystem, many other uses of blockchain technology have arisen in the poker realm, among them digitizing collectibles and events.
The decentralized video delivery platform Theta Network is making moves in this regard, partnering with World Poker Tour (WPT) to stream specific events and feature real-time non-fungible token (NFT) drops and auctions via its “Thetadrop NFT marketplace.”
During the live WPT broadcasts, users will be prompted to visit the marketplace to purchase exclusive collectibles and join a live auction for an NFT, which will capture a unique moment during the event. The marketplace promises fast transaction speeds, low fees, and high interoperability with other blockchains, making it possible for NFT-holders to move between supported networks seamlessly.
No question about it, blockchain technology is going to permeate into ever-growing aspects of our lives in the future, similar to how the internet transformed our world. For many, cryptocurrency is believed to be the future of money, but it’s fair to say that thus far, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other coins have behaved more like highly speculative commodities than stable currencies. As such, their value has been hugely susceptible to bull runs and price crashes. Of late, their value has also been susceptible to the tweets of the richest man in the world.
Elon Musk giveth, Elon Musk taketh away
Fortunes can change quickly in poker, but they happen when you are there at the table. For cryptocurrency “HODLers,” the rollercoaster never ends, even when they are asleep.
On February 8, Tesla announced in an SEC filing Monday that it has bought $1.5bn worth of Bitcoin and said that it would start accepting Bitcoin as a payment method for its products. In the weeks before this announcement, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk had been credited for raising the prices of cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, via his messages on Twitter. Last Thursday, he pulled the sharpest of U-turns:
As a result, the price of Bitcoin fell sharply, losing 8% of its value in the following three days. Yesterday, a careless tweet from Musk sent the market toppling farther:
Chris Weston of the brokerage Pepperstone reported that some Bitcoin traders were forced to liquidate their positions because of this latest volatility because they couldn’t meet margin calls on either long or short bets.
“Elon Musk, it seems, has been taking on all comers on Twitter over the weekend and caused some chunky gyrations across the coins,” Weston said, adding: “our weekend trading has kicked up, and we’re looking at some serious liquidations through the exchanges, where the last 24 hours we’ve seen over to $1.5bn liquidated.”
Musk clarified his position first thing this morning:
Did a one-word tweet really cause all that carnage? Did his nine-word clarification really cause a surge?
The poker community reacts
Evidence that Musk’s words can move markets can be found in this chart which shows how bitcoin rallied back from three-month lows right after his cornflakes clarification:
On the flip side, could it just be the case that the cryptocurrency markets are wildly over-extended and Musk is a handy scapegoat?
Musk has undoubtedly boosted crypto markets with his enthusiasm for the asset class, but he has recently gone cold on Bitcoin, citing its energy consumption issues, in favor of the one-time parody, Dogecoin. All these capricious moves have resulted in a massive loss in faith that the billionaire engineer even knows what he’s doing. Doug Polk, whose crypto-YouTube channel was, at one time, the biggest in the space, echoed this sentiment on Twitter:
PokerShares owner Mike “Timex” McDonald also weighed in on Musk’s latest tweet:
In fact, Musk’s ability – and willingness – to shift cryptocurrency prices with a single tweet will likely have had a deleterious effect, deterring other companies from following Tesla’s lead and putting Bitcoin on their balance sheet.
Patrick Leonard’s tweet was on the pulse of the poker world, which is still in the anger stage of grief.
While some in the poker community were out for blood, others have reacted with gallows humor.
Bottom line, it was clear that Bitcoin prices went too far, and a correction was due. This correction seems to be taking place now, and, while it is possible that it may rally again, it is likely that we will see Bitcoin’s price decline further. Experts suggest the near-term support for Bitcoin is near the $38,000 price level. If the price does fall further, at least the community have themselves a boogeyman.