CIP - Leverage-based Saturation and Pledge Benefit

Here’s the CIP I’ve been working on for a leverage-based saturation and pledge benefit. I believe this proposal could make Cardano much more decentralized and end the MPO vs SPO debate. Tell me what you think. The Google sheets is just temporary for this post. The spreadsheet file will be part of the final pull request.


Modify the rewards calculation equation and protocol stake pool fee parameters to incentivize delegation to low leverage pools.


The current incentives and fee structure is unfair to small pools and does nothing to limit high leverage among the largest entities staking on Cardano. As a result, Cardano has become more centralized as multiple pool operators (MPOs) gain more stake by creating additional pools without any restrictions. Modifying the rewards calculation equation to create a dynamic saturation point based on leverage will allow for better distribution of stake across the network. A modification of the pledge benefit portion of the rewards calculation equation will incentivize delegation to low leverage pools. Finally, a change to the current protocol stake pool fee parameters will ensure a level playing field to encourage fair competition among stake pools. This proposal increases the sybil attack resistance of the Cardano blockchain, removes any advantage or incentive for entities to operate multiple stake pools, and may reduce the large influence of centralized exchanges on block production.


It has been evident for quite some time that the current incentives and fee structure of the Cardano blockchain are lacking. Cardano’s Nakamoto Coefficient is in steady decline and the emergence of initial stake pool offerings (ISPOs) on the network has only accelerated the path to centralization. The inadequacy of the current protocol stems not from one’s ability to operate multiple pools, but from the lack of a mechanism to limit the leverage of the entities that participate in staking. Leverage is defined as the ratio between an entity’s stake and pledge. An entity having high leverage means its total stake is much higher than its pledge. This is bad in that it reduces the amount of stake that other entities can use for block production.

The current protocol does not consider leverage in its rewards calculation, rather it focuses on the parameter k which defines the optimal number of pools on the network. Unfortunately, having k number of pools does not enforce or incentivize decentralization, as this parameter cannot control who operates the top k pools. This is evident, as we see that many of the top k pools on Cardano are in fact operated by MPOs, making the “effective” k much lower than the k specified in the protocol. These groups of stake pools operated by single entities push many pools out of the top k pools leaving them to essentially be abandoned by delegators. To further the woes of small pool operators, the current stake pool fee parameters are unfair resulting in further abandonment. Specifically, the minimum fixed fee of 340 ADA prevents small pools from offering competitive rewards to delegators. This problem is described in detail in CIP 23.

As a response to the increasing number of abandoned stake pools, both IOG and the Cardano Foundation have begun initiatives to delegate large amounts of stake to small pools to help them achieve more delegation. Unfortunately, these efforts have largely been ineffectual to the current state of the network. Stake pools without ISPO’s and large social media personalities are simply unable to accumulate delegation under the current protocol. A stake pool operator’s sole purpose is for block production on the Cardano blockchain. There should be no prerequisites other than having a competitive pledge and the skills necessary to run a stake pool properly. With the current protocol, many stake pools with competitive pledge amounts ranging from 50,000 ADA to 250,000 ADA and highly skilled operators are unable to accumulate delegation. The fact that an investment worth more than a house is unable to produce consistent rewards via block production is a testament to the inadequacy of the current protocol.


This proposal is a modification of the rewards calculation equation, the function poolReward, in section 10.8 Rewards Distribution Calculation of “A Formal Specification of the Cardano Ledger”.

maxPool = (R / (1 + a0)) * (o + (s * a0 * ((o - (s * ((z0 - o) / z0))) / z0)))

where: maxPool = maximum rewards for a stake pool, R = ((reserve * rho) + fees) * (1 - tau), o = min(poolstake / totalstake, z0) = z0 for fully saturated pool, s = pledge / totalstake, and z0 = 1 / k. Current protocol parameters: k = 500, rho = 0.003, a0 = 0.3, and tau = 0.2

This proposal modifies the poolReward function by removing the current saturation mechanism which uses z0 and k and replaces it with a new mechanism that uses a new parameter max_leverage. max_leverage defines the maximum amount of leverage a stake pool can have before becoming saturated. Because z0 is removed completely and this CIP aims to incentivize delegation to low leverage pools, the portion of the poolReward function that determines the pledge benefit is simplified so that it is not a function of poolstake. This makes the total pledge benefit the same regardless of the size a pool which means the larger a pool is the less the pledge benefit influences rewards.

An expression called satpoolratio is used for implementing the saturation point of a stake pool which is determined by a pool’s pledge and the value of max_leverage:

satpoolratio = (pledge * max_leverage) / totalstake

where max_leverage is any positive integer.

The rewards calculation equation proposed:

maxPool = (R / (1 + a0)) * (o +(s * a0))

where: maxPool = maximum rewards for a stake pool, R = ((reserve * rho) + fees) * (1 - tau), o = min(poolstake / totalstake, satpoolratio) = satpoolratio for a fully saturated pool, and s = pledge / totalstake. Proposed value of parameter max_leverage: 50. Parameters rho, a0, and tao remain unchanged.

This modification to the rewards calculation equation removes one protocol parameter k and adds one new protocol parameter max_leverage. The proposed value for max_leverage is 50. However, this may be too aggressive. Community consensus should be reached so that this parameter is set thoughtfully. For implementation, max_leverage can be set high at first and then decreased incrementally to give delegators time to redelegate.

In order for this proposal to work properly with pools with low pledge, the protocol stake pool fee parameters must also be changed.

| Name of the Parameter   | New Parameter (Y/N)  | Deleted Parameter (Y/N) | Proposed Value   | Summary Rationale for Change |
|-----------------------  |--------------------  |------------------------ |---------------   | ---------------------------- |
| minPoolCost             | N                    | Y                       | N/A              | See Rationale section.       |
|-----------------------  |--------------------  |------------------------ |---------------   | ---------------------------- |
| minPoolRate             | Y                    | N                       | .02              | See Rationale section.       |
|-----------------------  |--------------------  |------------------------ |---------------   | ---------------------------- |

This proposal removes the parameter minPoolCost from the protocol. A new parameter minPoolRate as described in CIP 23 is added. The proposed value for minPoolRate in this proposal is 0.02. Any stake pool with a margin registered lower than minPoolRate will have its margin set to minPoolRate by the protocol when calculating delegator rewards. If minPoolCost cannot be removed, then it should be set to zero.


The current protocol allows for staking entities to achieve high leverage without any restrictions. As a result, many of the largest entities staking on Cardano operate with very high leverage leaving less opportunity for entities with smaller delegation. These high leverage “multipools” are made possible by operators splitting their pledge and operating multiple pools. The act of “pool splitting” bypasses the saturation mechanism of the current protocol. This mechanism is not influenced by an entity’s pledge or leverage. Instead, it is influenced by parameter k which is an arbitrary number representing an optimal number of pools on the network. As stated before, an optimal number of pools does not have any influence on the decentralization of the network, as it cannot control who runs these pools.

This proposal aims to reduce the amount of leverage large entities can achieve as well as remove any incentive or advantage an entity might have operating multiple pools. This effect is achieved by removing the current saturation mechanism and replacing it with an improved mechanism which is leverage-based. A new parameter called max_leverage is introduced which sets the maximum leverage a stake pool can obtain before becoming saturated. As a result, this new saturation mechanism effectively sets a maximum leverage an entity can possess before its rewards become significantly reduced due to saturation. Furthermore, “pool splitting” is addressed, as this new mechanism removes any incentive or advantage for an entity to operate more than a single pool. If an entity decides to split their pledge and operate two pools, those pools will saturate at half the size of the original pool and only offer half the rewards.

The current protocol’s pledge benefit is also flawed in that its effects on pool rewards increase with pool size. This mechanism effectively makes it slightly more profitable to delegate to larger pools. Combine this flaw with the unfair minimum fixed fee and the inconsistency of rewards offered by small stake pools and it is clear that the current protocol does not provide a level playing field for stake pools.

To address the flawed pledge benefit, the rewards calculation equation has been simplified by removing the influence of pool size and the parameter k. The proposed pledge benefit is only influenced by pledge, totalstake, a0, and R. This means that the total ADA rewarded for the pledge benefit remains the same regardless of pool size. This effectively decreases the pledge benefit’s effect as a pool’s size increases. By making the pledge benefit’s effect inversely proportional to pool size, delegators will be incentivized to delegate to pools with low leverage. Moreover, “pool splitting” is also deterred by this new pledge benefit. If an entity decides to split their pledge and operate two pools, those pools will only offer half the total pledge benefit as the original.

The protocol stake pool fee parameters must also be changed to allow this proposal to work effectively. The current protocol operates with an unfair minimum fixed fee or minPoolCost of 340 ADA. This forces small pools to operate with significantly higher effective fees which prevents them from offering competitive rewards. This problem is described in greater detail in CIP 23. Unfortunately, this problem is only made worse with this proposal due to the leverage-based saturation mechanism.

To address the unfair protocol stake pool fee parameters, this proposal includes the complete removal of the minPoolCost in favor of a new parameter minPoolRate which sets a minimum marginal fee. This new parameter is described in CIP 23. The proposed value of minPoolRate in this proposal is 0.02.

This proposal aims specifically to reduce leverage across the network to make the Cardano blockchain considerably more decentralized. Given that majority of the entities representing the top 50% of stake operate with leverage higher than 50, we can expect that this CIP to increase Cardano’s Nakamoto Coefficient significantly. With this CIP implemented, many of the largest entities staking on Cardano will become over-saturated and delegations will overflow into smaller lower leverage entities. As creating more pools is not an option for multipools, delegators will have to redelegate to lower leverage entities in order to retain optimal staking rewards. Another result of implementing this CIP may be a reduced influence of centralized exchanges on block production. Due to the need of liquidity, centralized exchanges cannot have all their stake as pledge. In the current protocol, this is hardly an issue as pledge has little effect on rewards. However, with this proposal implemented, exchanges will have to pledge a large amount of stake to retain their rewards and influence on block production. Finally, the proposed changes also make Cardano more sybil attack resistant. The proposed saturation mechanism ensures that pools must have some amount of pledge to offer any rewards to delegators. With a pledge of zero, a pool is saturated at zero and receives no rewards. Similarly, a pool with very low pledge will be saturated at a very low stake and offer poor rewards. This makes sybil attacks via strong marketing and social influence much more difficult.

The main concern with this proposal is the effect it will have on low pledge pools that are not sybil pools or bad actors. As a result of the proposed leverage-based saturation point, pools with very low pledge will not be able to gain stake or high leverage. While their rewards will be competitive assuming the minPoolCost is removed from the protocol and that they are unsaturated, they will not be as consistent as pools with larger pledge that can gain higher stake. This problem could possibly be resolved using smart contracts that allow delegators to contribute to pledge. Another solution may be found in IOG’s Conclave protocol.

Backwards Compatibility

Due to the removal of parameters k and minPoolCost, this proposal is not backwards compatible. However, the rewards calculation equation is very similar to the calculation of current protocol, and no large difference in the performance of the rewards calculation is expected.

Test Cases

See this Google sheets for a spreadsheet that can be used to test different values and compare the resulting rewards.

total stake: 33.25b
a0: 0.3
R (rewards available in epoch): 30m
k (current): 500
max_leverage (proposed): 50

Effect of new saturation mechanism on rewards (saturated versus unsaturated stake pools):

| Pool Stake | Pledge | Leverage | Pledge Benefit (current) | Total Rewards (current) | APY (current) | Pledge Benefit (proposed) | Total Rewards (proposed) | APY (proposed) |
| 70m        | 1m     | 70       | 208.38                   | 48791.37                | 5.2181%       | 208.21                    | 34910.35                 | 3.7068%        |
| 10m        | 1m     | 10       | 28.65                    | 6969.08                 | 5.2172%       | 208.21                    | 7148.64                  | 5.3551%        |
| 3m         | 1m     | 3        | 6.40                     | 2088.53                 | 5.2116%       | 208.21                    | 2290.34                  | 5.7291%        |
| 70m        | 100k   | 700      | 20.82                    | 48603.82                | 5.1975%       | 20.82                     | 3491.04                  | 0.3647%        |
| 10m        | 100k   | 100      | 3.10                     | 6943.53                 | 5.1976%       | 20.82                     | 3491.04                  | 2.5808%        |
| 3m         | 100k   | 30       | 0.91                     | 2083.04                 | 5.1975%       | 20.82                     | 2102.95                  | 5.2485%        |
| 70m        | 10k    | 7000     | 2.08                     | 48585.08                | 5.1954%       | 2.08                      | 349.10                   | 0.0364%        |
| 10m        | 10k    | 1000     | 0.31                     | 6940.74                 | 5.1954%       | 2.08                      | 349.10                   | 0.2552%        |
| 3m         | 10k    | 300      | 0.09                     | 2082.22                 | 5.1954%       | 2.08                      | 349.10                   | 0.8531%        |
| 60m        | 500k   | 120      | 93.85                    | 41736.42                | 5.2072%       | 104.11                    | 17455.18                 | 2.1461%        |
| 60m        | 250k   | 240      | 46.95                    | 41689.51                | 5.2012%       | 52.05                     | 8727.59                  | 1.0674%        |
| 30m        | 250k   | 120      | 23.38                    | 20844.66                | 5.2012%       | 52.05                     | 8727.59                  | 2.1461%        |

Effect of new pledge benefit on rewards (rewards up to saturation point):

| Pool Stake | Pledge | Leverage | Pledge Benefit (current) | Total Rewards (current) | APY (current) | Pledge Benefit (proposed) | Total Rewards (proposed) | APY (proposed) |
| 50m        | 1m     | 50       | 155.77                   | 34857.91                | 5.2191%       | 208.21                    | 34910.35                 | 5.2272%        |
| 40m        | 1m     | 40       | 123.99                   | 27885.71                | 5.2190%       | 208.21                    | 27969.92                 | 5.2352%        |
| 30m        | 1m     | 30       | 92.21                    | 20913.50                | 5.2188%       | 208.21                    | 21029.50                 | 5.2485%        |
| 20m        | 1m     | 20       | 60.43                    | 13941.29                | 5.2184%       | 208.21                    | 14089.07                 | 5.2751%        |
| 10m        | 1m     | 10       | 28.65                    | 6969.08                 | 5.2172%       | 208.21                    | 7148.64                  | 5.3551%        |
| 1m         | 1m     | 1        | 0.05                     | 694.09                  | 5.1956%       | 208.21                    | 902.26                   | 6.8050%        |

The results above were calculated assuming these stake pools charge no fees. (0% margin and 0 fixed fee)

Definitions: Pool Stake - Total stake delegated to a stake pool in ADA. Pledge - Amount of stake pledged by a stake pool in ADA. Leverage - The ratio between Pool Stake and Pledge. Pledge Benefit - The reward a stake pool earns for their pledge in ADA in a single epoch. Total Rewards - The total reward a stake pool earns in ADA in a single epoch (includes pledge benefit). APY - Annual Percentage Yield, the expected annual return on investment for staking represented as a percentage of the original investment.

As you can see, this proposal successfully gives low leverage stake pools much higher rewards than high leverage stake pools. This is achieved by both the proposed saturation mechanism and pledge benefit. You can also see that “pool splitting” is no longer an effective way to maximize rewards.


@TobiasFancee I’m glad to see this posted although I’d personally abstain from any discussion about whether this should be implemented. Considering the work you’ve done I’d be happy to see this held up properly for consideration via a CIP pull request.

One thing I was advised in the beginning which I hate to pass along to you is that the text sections might have to be edited down for that submitted CIP. My own CIP back in those days had complete narratives of relevant parts of the ecosystem similar to yours has, and I had to pull practically all of it out to get the other CIP editors to agree about on the relevance of what remained.

Your level of details & verbosity would be fine with me (if it were solely up to me) but please keep in mind streamlining this document would also streamline its consideration. In my own submission process, I posted the parts I removed in either:

  • comments in the PR for the CIP
  • postings in a forum thread like this one (be sure to include this link in the Comments-URI section of the CIP header)

There are few typography issues which you might already be planning to address in the final draft: like typesetting the equations differently from the text (code tags would do) and bulleting the repetitively formatted lists (e.g. your “Definitions” section).

Thanks for your efforts & looking forward to following this proposal here & on Github :sunglasses:

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p.s. also FYI there is another CIP PR in the works that has some features in common with your proposal:

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There is an additional consideration:

More stake pools is not always better

If I am reading things correctly, your proposal does not attempt to corral the community towards a limited number of pools which the 340 min fee somewhat does.

As the number of pools increases, block propagation gets slower but decentralisation increases. There is a sweet spot where decentralisation is high enough and block propagation is not too slow.

The K factor attempted to put a lower limit on the number of pools. The 340 minimum fee in effect put a soft upper limit on the number of pools by making it uneconomic for very small pools.

I think any new proposal should also address how to limit the number of very small pools.

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After a second read, and before going into math details and simulations, my only concern is the smartContract based pledge accumulation.
I understand the hurdle for operators who can’t afford such a pledge. But it looks to me like this proposal already enables fair room for smaller businesses.

On the other side (m)any mechanisms allowing pledge “stunts” will lead to weird constructions with more and more delegators ending up as untrusted pledge partners.

It may could be limited to a certain amount n of pledge partners, where these n addresses are technically limited to not being associated (funded) by any smart contract. For example n could be limited to max 1-2 direct pledge partners.
Based on what we have seen so far any additional “mechanism” on top of an existing game theory (eg ISPO) comes with high potential risks to completely derail the original ideas, factors and intentions

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Yes, very good points. I don’t think limiting the number of pledgers to a specific number makes sense though. That seems quite arbitrary.

Smart contract based pledging is a real wild card.

Yes it is arbitrary, with the intention to allow useful pledge partnerships between real business partners, but prevent crazy constructions of several hundreds-thousands of delegators.

From my understanding, the incentive to get slightly more delegation rewards from almost saturated pools still must remain, to avoid ending up with thousands of small pools, not able to sync their consent state in a reasonable time anymore.

And that mechanism would be a motivation to create SC pledge groups, which then would make the whole pledge thing obsolete, or at least way more complex and unpredictable than it should be


How many business partners would you allow? 2, 3, 5 …?

Since smart contracts can already stake, is it already possible to create pledge pools if you can create a smart contract with the required logic?

Thanks for the feedback! I agree this draft is much too long. I wanted there to be a “full” version available for discussion. The final version will be much shorter.
As for formatting, I’ve seen other CIPs make it to “Draft” and “Proposed” statuses with similar formatting. However, I’ll definitely make the changes you’ve suggested. I’m just wondering how specific formatting has to be.


Thanks for the feedback. The purpose of this CIP is not to make as many pools as possible. The purpose is to make the incentives mechanism fairer by limiting leverage and removing the 340 min fee. One important thing to consider is how max_leverage limits pool size. With this CIP, small pools (which likely have small pledge) will saturate at lower amounts of stake. So these pools will have less block production, inconsistent rewards, and have less pledge benefit if they get close to saturation. Because of this, many on Twitter think that this CIP will do the opposite of what you are saying and reduce the number of small pools on the network.
If the number of pools is at any point a concern, this CIP can somewhat adjust the number of pools. While there is no explicit parameter for an ‘optimal number of pools’, there is the parameter max_leverage. If there needs to be more pools consistently minting blocks for decentralization, max_leverage is set lower. This means that ISPO, YouTuber, and popular-community-member pools saturate at lower stake causing excess stake to move to other pools. If there are too many pools, max_leverage is set higher, and stake moves back to ISPO, YouTuber, and popular-community-member pools as they have better marketing and can offer better rewards (ISPOs).

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Thanks for the feedback. The development of these smart contracts is independent to this CIP. They are not part of the CIP and could even be implemented (if they are possible to create) in the current protocol. They are only mentioned as a potential solution to pools that may not have access to high pledge but offer benefits to the network (like operating in a region where there are currently no pools or nodes).
The smart contracts themselves I don’t really see as ever becoming problems. My understanding of them is that they would operate like a certificate of deposit where funds (ADA) are locked for a period of time. At the end of the time period, the delegator would receive their staking rewards and a part of the operator fees. Since funds are locked there is greater risk. Additionally, the more delegators who participate in this, the more that has to be distributed in operator fees. So as more delegators participate, the contract becomes less profitable which should limit participation. This is my understanding at least.

Anything you’d see in a typical Wikipedia article with similar usage of Markdown… the bulleted lists especially will make it easier to comprehend the draft quickly & discuss in CIP meetings :sunglasses:

I really like the idea of max_leverage limiting pool size.

However, I am still concerned about the number of small pools. We already have a huge number of small uneconomic pools and this is with the minimum fee of 340 making them less economic. If you remove the minimum fee, then I think there will be more small pools (not less) even though as you say some delegation will move from multi-pools to single pools. There will still be many more small pools.

Unfortunately this creates network propagation delays. Furthermore, due to how the Cardano leader schedule is determined, the effect may even be worse. This is because of the following:

  • Small pool operators (eg. 50K total stake or less) will get only about 3 blocks per year.
  • They will keep running their leader logs checking for if they get awarded a slot to be leader.
  • They have little incentive to remain online, with good network connections, and software up to date, when they are not producing blocks. Consequently at least some will be relatively disconnected and not updated.
  • Eventually when they get awarded to be slot leader then they get connected and update their systems just in time to produce their block. (Since they know ahead of schedule when they will be slot leader.)
  • The rest of the network does not have good connections to these nodes because they have been disconnected for so long.

Unfortunately, this is a bad outcome for block propagation. It is also bad for other pool operators because poor block propagation benefits the smaller pool operator due to the VRF calculation when determining outcome of single block forks. For example, my pool lost a fork battle with a tiny pool because its block was delayed for 30 seconds! 30 seconds is a completely unreasonable delay. The delay was so great because this tiny pool was largely isolated from the rest of the network.

I also note that the P2P uses mechanisms to choose other nodes to connect with based on where blocks are coming from fastest. How this P2P mechanism will work in relation to tiny pools, producing only 1 block per year, which keep disconnecting, is anyone’s guess.

The number of very small pools may already be a bit of a problem. I think it would be better to have some sort of economic coercion to limit the very small pools.

I don’t like the minimum fee of 340 as this mechanism but it does help somewhat. Can you come up with a better mechanism? I don’t think we want a lot of tiny pools producing 1 block per year.

Id like to see this made into a formal oull req. there is some really amazing work in here.!!

For the past one year I have been raising similar issue in SPO community call through short survey conducted by IOHK called SPO Pulse. My concern is about the small pools receiving no rewards for no block minting but have pledged ada which remains idle. I requested to revise the rewards formula with some parameter so that small pools gets some rewards for the pledge ada locked up. It will help them to sustain in the ecosystem by paying their fees at least for running the stake pool in the long run. You are right that parameter K won’t help much in decentralization. Overall I liked you proposal. Hope similar proposal like yours gets implemented soon.

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@primestakepool You should check out the CIP authored by @Michael.Liesenfelt

See: CIP - Shelley’s Basho-Voltaire decentralization update
And the document in progress:
CIP - Shelley's Basho-Voltaire decentralization update - Google Docs

Also this youtube interview by Rick McCracken:


I’d also like to add that @TobiasFancee and I are on the same page with this even though we are authoring slightly different CIP’s. We both agree on the importance of limiting pledge leverage. I’ve decided to use a flat yield ceiling whereas Tobias has reward curves which include a slope/gradient. There is definitely merit to both approaches and both should be investigated!

The only issue I noticed with his proposal was that the rewards for a 65M pledge 65M stake pool may exceed the available rewards R. So, as long as his curves keep the rewards bounded to R than it’s a perfectly valid pledge benefit curve.


Very informative. Thanks for the update.

Nice work …