King Pure in the MinerVerse superheroes series

MinerVerse SuperHeroes: King Pure Rises

Author: MinerMan

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to release the first installment of the MinerVerse Series. MinerVerse was guest-written by an early Bitcoin miner, under the pen name MinerMan. In each chapter, MinerMan revisits the early years of Bitcoin mining with influential pseudonymous characters – both good and bad. These stories are part fact and part fiction. We look forward to sharing more chapters soon. 

Bonus: Can you figure out who King Pure is? Tweet us @minerupdate with your best guess!

As I stepped into the heated lobby of Cyberport, I felt an immediate wave of nausea.  Today was the day I would first meet King Pure. I was already hot from the anticipation and this did not mix well with the blast of hot air on a cold December morning. I checked my watch. I was early. As I started to calm down and chill out, I whipped out my phone to check King Pure’s coming out article written months ago. 

“There are N amount of bitcoin, and this is my story…”  I read the chronological events of his bitcoin involvement since 2011, trying to gauge his current psyche. This was a man that I knew from legendary stories. He hid his identity well, previously known only as 5533, his hacker name. Why would he bother coming out now? He did not need the money. Nor the recognition. In 2013, he liberalised miners by reducing the high entry barrier of technical knowhow for ASICs.  In the same strike, this destroyed the ongoing centralising threat of the ghash/guild duopoly. The kudos he could claim at the time was massive. But he didn’t step forward. So why now? Why would a cypherpunk move willingly from pseudonymous to known? 

I partly knew the answer. It was the same reason I was showing up in the same place. But until I see him in person, there was no way to verify. According to his business partner, King Pure weighed more than 100kg and we would jokingly call him King Fat Boy. He should be easy to spot so I was sure I didn’t miss him. I checked my Wechat and saw that the Cryptsy guy (CG) left me a message. “Fuck” I thought to myself. CG got to him first. They were at a nearby McDonald’s. 

This was not ideal. CG was from the states but he could speak Chinese. And his miner intel was world class. It would be very hard to talk to King Pure openly without CG guessing who I was. I also suspected CG had his own personal agenda for the upcoming conference. I guess I had to wing it. 

Before I got to McDonald’s the two had already stepped out. It was not one, but two fat guys. CG was probably the fatter of the two. King Pure saw me and flashed a wide grin. He was kitted out in white silk Tang Dynasty clothing. I greeted him with a joke on his fashion “hey, Miner from China!” He grinned even wider. He was trolling and he loved it. However, he didn’t even get to say hi as CG quickly took over and did all the talking. 

CG escorted us up to his hotel room. It was not long before he headed to the toilet. I was finally alone with King Pure. I didn’t waste any time. “I met a lot of them last night over drinks. Todd. Eric. Mark.” I offered, my voice barely above a whisper. “Who?” Pure replied. I showed him the names on my phone browser. He shrugged. Obviously, those weren’t the names he wanted insight on. “What’s the plan then?” I prodded. “Let’s hear what they have to say first. That’s why we were summoned here”.

Just what I needed. Verification. King Pure put his name out here for a reason. Not because of the “tell your bitcoin story” contest that drew out his coming out article. But because he felt disturbed. The direction of the development of bitcoin was upsetting him. King Pure sacrificed his anonymity to stand up for what he believed in. He had a voice and he wanted it to be heard. The conference we were about to attend was the audience he had been waiting for. 

My confidence was up. Though we first met, being able to dive straight into discussing strategy means he at least sees me as valuable input. I eagerly tried to score more rapport with him by pointing at the schedule and warned him about the miner panel, “They’re setting us up to look bad”. He glanced at me briefly. “So what?” he answered. I was speechless. Did I miss something? Or did I need to impress him first before he would consider me on his side? Before I could think of a reply, CG stepped out and ushered us downstairs. 

The rest of the day was subdued. I couldn’t figure out how to talk to him nor could I do so comfortably with CG around. We went into the presentation room and picked seats around the sides. Throughout the morning, developers were taking turns to go on stage to present slides and talk technobabble. The only message I understood was that there was some new magic code called Segwit and it will save the world. It was boring as hell. I started messaging Pure’s business partner:

Me: dude’s so eccentric
Me: how do you work with him
D: haha
D: how’s the conference
Me: no idea man
Me: you know I can’t code
Me: they’re showing pages and pages of it
D: have fun 

No help there. I decided to try a direct approach. I leaned towards Pure and whispered, “WTF is this? Endless brainwashing?” His reply was blunt “Wrong question. WTF is Blockstream.” I was taken aback, “What?” I asked. He lowered his voice and explained, “This is not looking good. Too centralised. If this goes on. I’ll have to take Gavin’s side”. “What?” I repeated. At this point he just ignored me. I was truly embarrassed.  I could not follow what was going on and we both knew it. 

Of course, I knew what Blockstream was. They were the start-up that organised the conference we were at. They raised an astounding amount of money from VCs and managed to hire the entire freelancing developer team responsible for bitcoin core. Their payroll must have encompassed more than 95% of the existing codebase. They sent their star-studded cast to Hong Kong, and it was a rare opportunity for miners to meet the fabled gods of the core dev team. 

However, his last comment had me confused. It had already been discretely indicated to us that miners are expected to show support for “scaling”. Did he disagree from the start and want to make a scene? Or did he switch tact on the fly? I was lost in thought until I saw notable miners walk on stage. It was already time for the miner panel. 

As Pure stepped on stage with the rest of the miners he flashed that signature grin again. He knew what was coming. Soon after the panel was assembled, they were promptly labelled as a group controlling 90% of the world hash rate. He knew as well as I did that due to segregation of specialities there was only the Russian mining team who had head-to-tail controlled hash rate and they barely had 2 percent of the network. 

This was the first time I could take a good long look at King Pure the legend. Unlike everyone else on stage, he was relaxed. Hands folded, arms resting on his belly, slouched back and grinning. That grin reminded me of the first time we met earlier that day. It’s a grin that is as if he was teasing you, asking you if you found it funny too that he was trolling. I smiled as I knew he was making fun of the misrepresentations intended of the panel. His Tang Dynasty clothing made it almost comical. As if he was saying “Here we are! As requested. Miners from China.”

Although he delivered answers that garnered much attention and applause, there was no sense of urgency. I was certain he did not care at all what this panel was for. Which explains the cold shoulder in CG’s hotel room. I thought this 90-minute panel was the highlight. He thought it was child’s play. 

After the miner panel was a series of workshops. I sat in a couple of them to learn more but eventually got bored. I grabbed a cup of free coffee and wandered down the corridor wondering where everybody else was. Then I caught a glimpse through a closing door of the one workshop with the biggest room. And inside was packed full of people. 

I pushed the door open and the person inside the door turned to face me. “We’re full” he sneered. As he was closing the door, friends from the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong saw me and explained that I was a miner and to let me in. As I shuffled inside to find space in the cramped room I was careful not to spill coffee on anybody. 

I picked a corner near the window and looked back into the room. The tables were arranged in a square. People sat facing inwards with a moderator in the centre assisting the discussion. The walls were lined with people facing inwards too. With his wide back facing me, I found myself in the lucky position to be watching the conversation from King Pure’s angle. 

The atmosphere was quiet but tense. Nobody spoke out of turn and the speaker would take his time to explain for the moderator cum translator to pass the message. I slowly picked up on the conversation and realised we were at an impasse. The coders were unable to substantiate their claims of centralisation when faced with a group of people who knew the facts. They were looking for an easy rubber stamp to approve their attempt to overthrow the initiative of another group of coders. But now they needed a new narrative as their old one was based on misinformation. 

The miners understood what the coders were after and we’re happy to help. But the language barrier was not just Mandarin vs English. It was hardware vs software.  When hardware guys are asked to fix software problems, you end up with more questions than answers. Of all the types of miners, only the pool operators work with software. There were only two pool operators in the room who could talk about software, King Pure and Panther Pan.  I scanned the room and quickly found Pan in the crowd to my left. He was leaning against the window in his green zip-up sweater. I needed my vantage point so I opted for Wechat instead:

Me: what did I miss
PP: nothing much
PP: some miners venting
Me: so what do you think of this Segwit proposal?
PP: no idea if it’s any good or not
Me: out of all the miners, you’re the only one who have to work with protocol stuff, if you don’t know, who do we ask?
PP: I only just heard of it today man
PP: I’m not superman
PP: I’ve got to spend some time studying it to give an opinion
Me: then why are they here?
PP: beats me
PP: waste of time? just resolve it on BIP 9
Me: erm. so what are WE doing here?
PP: …

No reply. I looked over. He was shoving his phone back into his pocket and paying attention to the discussion. He answered my question by his actions: We were there to listen to what questions the coders wanted to ask Pure. 

The impasse has been resolved by dropping the pretence. The coder’s open-ended general miner questions were discarded as they knew who had the answers they needed. 

I listened intently to Pure’s answers. The questions were overtaken by three of the most senior core developers in the room. How did a conference designed to fly in experts to teach miners about Segwit end up as an Ask Me Anything for King Pure?

As hard as I tried, I failed to grasp the significance of any of the questions. It was again just endless technobabble. After an hour or so they broke up the meeting as the next scheduled event was dinner and drinks. 

I made my way back home to avoid the awkward socialising that is common at such events. I needed some away time to make sense of what was going on anyway. As I plopped myself in the backseat and closed the taxi door, I whipped out my phone and started messaging. D must have been clued up by now and would appreciate any extra tidbits of information I could offer:

Me: yo
D: how was it?
Me: 3 vs 1
Me: I think he held his own
D: no man
D: it was terrible
D: he talked way too much
D: and for what?

Then it dawned on me. Pure just openly explained the inner workings of his business. 

In front of all his competitors. 

On top of giving up his pseudonymous status, he gave up his business secrets. I recalled him answering in-depth questions about how he manages to keep his orphan rates so low. Those rates are the highest cost factor for a pool. D was right. “And for what?” Not for power. If he wanted power he would have taken sides.

Is this altruism? Helping developers understand mining for the greater good? Most people who claim altruism do so only in name for a later ulterior motive. And a truly altruistic miner could not exist. It was a well-established logic that non-profit maximising miners would soon become irrelevant in this cut-throat industry. 

I stared out the taxi window. Squinting my eyes to search for some logic in Pure’s actions. There was only one narrative that seemed to be consistent: Stop the big guy AND help the small guys. Break up ghash’s 51%+ control AND make it easy for new miners to play with ASICs. Challenge Blockstream when they became a centralisation force AND help individual developers to understand mining.

This was only my guess as to his thought process. Who was I to second guess an expert cypherpunk? Being hard to read is an important part of their skillset.

Luckily, years later, I was given the opportunity to verify my theory. It happened during another landmark event: King Pure backed a start-up that would eventually challenge the then leading ASIC manufacturer.   As I was invited to invest, I had the opportunity to ask him directly at the investors meeting. “You’ve never bet on chip design. Even when D went and did his own implementation, you didn’t support D. So why these guys?” and his answer was abrupt as usual. “Not why them. Why now?” I paused and waited for his explanation. “The incumbents are getting too strong. If we don’t back newcomers now. There will be no competitors left in a couple years time.”

I sat still for a moment at the diner where we were all gathered.  The other potential investors were noisily talking about the riches they would make. I was quiet and so was Pure. What a big guy stature.  But in his heart, he was just a small guy. Motivated to make the world a fairer place for all other small guys. 


[stay tuned for next chapter! MinerVerse SuperVillains: Fat Muffin Man]