The Mystery of online poker legend Dan Cates, the Jungleman: “With players like Negreanu they talk constantly and for me that’s not the case”

We try to get inside the fascinating mind of Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates

How would you feel if you had $6 million tied up online? Angry? Depressed? Worried out of your mind? That’s the fate that befell Daniel ‘Jungleman’ Cates when Full Tilt Poker imploded. The biggest winner in 2010 found himself with his millions locked away and possibly gone forever.  And he’s, well, he’s really not that stressed about it.

‘What’s there to think about really,’ he says. It’s all a bit confusing. Then again, nothing with Cates is really what you expect. From his opinionated and detailed blog posts Cates comes  across as an effusive and eloquent character, and his heads-up challenges and offers to stake someone in the WSOP Main Event in return for good deeds suggests a larger than life personality.

But in person his answers are more clipped, and his personality more muted. There is the impression that he is a bigger personality online than live in all kinds of ways. He hasn’t got the enigma of an Isildur or the fiery wit of a FullFlush, but he’s not been afraid to put himself forward as the world’s best.

The quietly spoken American took everyone by surprise when he emerged into the world of high-stakes poker in 2010. The previously unknown jungleman12 gained a reputation for taking on all comers at the big no-limit games on Full Tilt. He stepped up to the plate to take on the durrrr Challenge, after the initial run against Antonius ground to a halt, and was crushing it before things were put on hold when Full Tilt went down. Since then he’s issued an open challenge for a live heads-up match in Prague, which nobody took him up on. He’s clearly determined to gain the respect of the poker world at large.

Mr Big Time

Back in 2010 Cates was big time, with an army of railbirds following his every move. He was even profiled by the New York Times. And then, Black Friday happened. He suddenly found himself with the result of years of hard work tied up in the online ether.

Cates has around $100k stuck on UltimateBet, but reports suggested he had as much as six million dollars on Full Tilt. In retrospect this seems foolhardy in the extreme. But those were different days, and nobody expected the money to just vanish. Nobody expected the fruits of all that labour, all those hours spent studying, building and taking risks to just disappear overnight. However, that is exactly what happened.

Oddly Cates is incredibly sanguine about it. Perhaps the analytical part of his brain overrides his emotions, or perhaps he has just done all his grieving, but the loss of those millions just doesn’t seem to phase him.

‘I’ve not written off the Full Tilt money, but there is no point thinking about it and it doesn’t affect my decisions now,’ he says evenly when pushed on it. But did he not think about it for months afterwards? Didn’t it eat away at him? ‘No,’ he says flatly as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.

‘What’s there to think about really? There is nothing I can do about the situation.’ Perhaps the fact his life hasn’t had to change much allows him the luxury of being so calm about the whole deal. He insists nothing has really changed in poker terms. ‘If I had that money now then maybe I wouldn’t have to sell action, but I would still be playing the same stakes,’ he says.

Rags to rags to riches

Cates’s rise to the top wasn’t the standard deposit $50 and turn it into millions tale. ‘I wasn’t good at first,’ he admits refreshingly. ‘I lost a load of money initially, but then dropped down stakes and read a lot of books,’ Cates says. If you’re hoping for some kind of miracle moment then you’re going to be disappointed. There wasn’t one. ‘I can’t even remember how I used to think back then,’ Cates says.

That’s not to say he is some kind of unwitting poker genius. He knows exactly what he’s doing and is one of the more thoughtful players around. He has just moved so far past his old self it’s hard to look back. Since Black Friday, Cates has relocated to London so he can continue playing online. ‘It’s going alright,’ he says. ‘It reminds me of the US. It was just the poker that brought me here, no offence to the UK. It’s a lot easier living in the US. But until they regulate poker in the US I will stay in Europe.’

While he has ventured outside to play some live games at Les Ambassadeurs in ‘some weird games like super stud’, most of his time is spent back home grinding. ‘I’ve been playing a lot online while I’ve been living here. I’ve been able to get a decent amount of action in.

Maybe because people don’t know who I am, but I have been getting a lot more no-limit action,’ he says with a smile. And since the move he’s been running pretty well. He claims to be  up $1.4 million online since Black Friday although confusingly says he’s ‘lost some in other places’. But he says it’s not because the games are easier in Europe.

‘The games have sort of got harder. There are different styles between the US and Europe. European players tend to play differently. Most Americans are more theory-based. European players tend to be less theory-based. They don’t play exactly how a book would tell them too,’ he says.

A friend indeed

Cates is more of a theory-based player, and he has tried his hand at coaching. Although that didn’t end so well. Cates and fellow high-stakes pro Haseeb Qureshi took online prodigy José ‘Girah’ Macedo under their wing. The three moved in together and aimed to turn Girah into one of the world’s best online high-stakes players. It all ended in bitter acrimony when Girah was exposed as having cheated high-stakes players and Qureshi quit the game as a result.

Cates says he knew nothing of the cheating and clearly looks back on the whole episode with a great deal of regret. ‘We had a special thing with Girah and he messed it all up,’ he says. Cates admits he still speaks to Girah every now and then. ‘I don’t think he’s playing much now. He was telling me he wanted to give all his money to charity and try and do something else. I told him that was a stupid idea. I don’t know if he’s going to do it or not. Apparently he does have a lot of money,’ he says with a slight tone of surprise.

But while the Girah scandal brought a degree of notoriety, your average poker fan would do well to pick Cates out of a line-up, and he’s not exactly been setting the world alight with his TV appearances. This could be due to the lack of new poker TV shows, but also to a more sensitive subject. We’re not sure how to put this. Some people find Cates a bit…boring.

Cates is described as the quintessential awkward online pro, with not much to say and no interesting way of saying it. But in person that’s certainly not the abiding impression you are left with. While the conversation is littered with short, sharp answers, it doesn’t feel like a terse exchange. He’s friendly, funny and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Cates simply weighs up carefully what the correct response is and dispenses it with the minimum of fuss. He’s reminiscent of a younger durrrr, not quite aware of his own potential. He talks of creating a Jungleman ‘brand’, but doesn’t quite seem to be aware of what that even means or how much that depends on his personality.

Building the brand

When asked what he means by ‘building his brand’, Cates simply says ‘winning money and playing in events like the PartyPoker Premier League. Making videos and doing stuff.’ It’s not exactly a Hellmuthian masterplan. The problem Cates has is frankly he’s just not that interesting to the average person.

It’s something other pros have mentioned in the past. If it bothers him he’s not showing it. ‘I can understand that from other player’s perspectives they might not find me interesting,’ Cates says in a friendly tone. ‘With players like Negreanu they talk constantly and for me that’s not the case.’

Phase one of Cates’ plans to build the brand is appearing on the PartyPoker Premier League with the likes of Tom Dwan and Tony G. It’s one of the highest profile poker TV shows around, but Cates can’t help getting analytical when asked why he came to play. ‘It’s a prestigious event and it’s in Vienna, which is one of my favourite cities. Also there is added money so that interested me and it is mostly short-handed, which is good,’ he concludes.

In terms of poker talent, Cates has everything going for him. And he’s working hard to generate an image that will appeal to poker fans and sponsors. The major problem he has though is his dislike of tournament poker. ‘I don’t really enjoy tournaments that much. They are very slow and very high variance. They are kind of a crapshoot in general. With cash games you can play a lot more hands, and the variance is still frustrating but it’s not nearly as annoying.’

He’s probably going to have to suck it up and play a few more tournaments if he wants to become one of the big names in poker though. And his decision to join Team Matchbook at this year’s WSOP suggests he realises this. He’s come close to deals before, but nothing has really piqued his interest before. ‘If I get the right offer then I would be sponsored. There have been a couple, but not ones I wanted to take,’ he admits.

So what’s next?

There is a sense poker is becoming less important to Cates, after it has consumed his life for the past three years. He admits the game is largely just a way to pay the bills and has set himself ‘goals’ outside of poker starting with getting in shape. He clearly has ambitious plans, even if he’s reticent at saying exactly what they are.

He recently posted a blog detailing his vision for making the world a better place. ‘Failure is inevitable and human; this is reality and must be accepted and dealt with. Learning from mistakes, or wisdom is the other half of the battle, apply these two things and perhaps anything in the scope of the imagination is possible. Often reality is cruel, ugly, unforgiving, but with right vision, and attitude coming from these principles all evil could be vanquished in time, and the world would be a better place,’ he posted.

That level of emotiveness is at odds with the calm, analytical Cates who talks of building the Jungleman ‘brand’. Perhaps he is unhappy or unwilling to share too much of himself in interviews and wants to save his true feelings for the more personal, controlled area of the blog.

Then again,who knows what Jungleman really thinks. He’s a confusing and fascinating character and one who is as hard to read in real life as he is on the tables. ‘Poker has taught me that perceptions of things are not what you think they are,’ he says intriguingly at one point. ‘What you think about things with many variables is often much different from the reality.’ Welcome to the apparently bizarre world of Jungleman. Things may appear stranger than they really are.

Jungleman is just one of the great players we interview for PokerPlayer magazine so why not try a digital copy HERE



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