Jungleman became the newest guest of the 'Top of the Game' column, in which readers are introduced to outstanding athletes. Before him, NBA star Grant Hill, Olympic champions Lindsey Vonn and Ryan Murphy, Super Bowl champion and MVP Patrick Mahomes and others became heroes. The conversation was designed in the form of a monologue, in which Cates introduces the audience to the peculiarities of poker and tells what helped him to achieve success.
At 32, Daniel Cates is considered one of the strongest players in the world, and his nickname – Jungleman – is known throughout the poker community. However, his first experience of playing cards was not so successful.
– ''When I was 17 years old, I met guys who lived not far from us, they taught me how to play poker. They played much better than me and won $3,000 from me – almost all of my savings. After that, my parents blocked my bank account, and I had to get a job at McDonald's.''
At work, Cates lasted only a month, earned $1,000 and made another attempt at starting a poker career. This time, he decided to act smarter and went to play micro-stakes online. There, Daniel began to carefully study his opponents, trying to pay attention to their strengths. This paid off, as by the age of 19 Jungleman had won over $1 million. He became truly obsessed with the game. In order to fully focus on poker, Dan even dropped out of the prestigious University of Maryland, where he studied economics.
The beginning of Daniel's professional career was not all plain sailing. In a couple of months, he lost more than half of his bankroll – $600,000. But he did not lose interest in poker and continued to put in the work. Over the next two years, Cates rose to the highest limits and became one of the best in all varieties of poker. The pinnacle of his career was crowned by a unique achievement – two straight wins in the $50,000 Players Championship.
Jungleman believes that the right mindset is one of the most important factors in becoming an outstanding player.
– ''As a child, I was very arrogant, because I felt smart early. I got high grades in school, and did not put any effort in. But over time, this passed, and the passion for computer games helped. There I was just torn apart, and one of my first thoughts was: 'It seems that I am not so smart.'
But I started to learn from my competitors, watched what they were doing and adopted the best parts. It helped a lot. I realized that arrogant behavior not only annoys others, but also limits my own possibilities, which turned out to be much wider than I thought.
In poker these days, arrogant players are my most desirable opponents, and I beat them all the time. My opponents have repeatedly treated me like an idiot, and always paid the price for it. The worse they think of me, the more they lose to me. The worst situation in poker is when you are sure you are superior to the person, but in fact you are not. This is what leads to the biggest losses.
Poker losses can easily unsettle even the strongest. But a few bad sessions are no reason to quit poker. It is very important to realize what you need in order to win and whether you are able to change. Even during the most successful periods of my career, there were nightmarish sessions when I could not win a single hand all night. I once lost $5 million on a trip. After a few sessions then, I finally lost faith in myself and said to myself: 'Well, that's it, this is definitely the end, I can never win again.' But it was never true.
It's very easy to get discouraged, much harder to get yourself together. I succeeded. Close friends helped. Another easy way is to start a new hobby. In other words, you can’t build your life so that all emotions depend on any one activity. If that thing is unstable, like poker, we are doomed to a constant swing of emotions. Winning is also dangerous. After a few successful sessions, it is very easy to believe that this will continue forever. It is obvious that life is not so simple.
For me, the most important skill in poker is the ability to read people. In life, the ability to find the truth, to recognize where the truth is and where the lie is, is also very useful. But reads alone are not enough. It’s not enough to read your opponent at the table, you also need to be able to use this information correctly. For me, the analog of this approach in real life is the ability to draw conclusions based on the actions of people, and not on their words. When we carefully observe a person, it is easier for him to hide emotions. Information needs to be collected when no one knows that you are watching.
Pay attention to how opponents move chips, how they behave in situations in which they feel uncomfortable. The simplest example is that some beginners start to sweat a lot when the money that is truly meaningful to them is played out. In almost any situation, you can get some information if you observe carefully.
Another important factor is knowing when to take risks. The most successful players feel these moments perfectly, but if necessary, they are ready to retreat. The ability to stop in time is another hallmark of the strongest players. Otherwise, you can overstrain and burn out, and this will lead to a lack of progress.
Professional players often face doubts in themselves or in their game, at such moments we need some kind of shake-up. I don't mean drastic changes and getting out of your comfort zone. Sometimes the solution lies on the surface, for example, a short break from the game can be enough to restore your psychological state.''
Daniel Cates has had a unique career, his rise through the stakes is almost unparalleled. In terms of climbing speed, only Timofey Kuznetsov, who climbed on cap tables, can compare with him. It took Jungleman less than a year to go from zero to NL10k.
He started his online career in June 2008 at the $0.25/0.50 HUNL tables on Full Tilt.
''I was already playing $2/$4 heads-up in early August, '' Cates recalled on his 2+2 blog. – ''And by October I switched to $5/$10. I won about $100k in December and ended the year at $10/$20. In February 2009 I played $25/$50. This limit was the first where I had difficulties. There I ran into top players – ike, luckychewy, Sauce – who destroyed me at first. Therefore, for the first 2-3 months at this limit, I had to play with a script, which I had never done before. At the micro stakes, I moved up when I won 20-30 buy-ins, and at medium and high stakes I stuck to the 40-50 buy-in rule.''
The painful half-bankroll loss that Cates told CNBC about happened in the fall of 2009 against Viktor Bloom. On December 8, 2009, Isildur played his famous match against Brian Hastings, in which he lost $4 million. Amid this madness, two events that began that historic day went unnoticed. Victor first won $720k against Brian Townsend in the $500/$1k PLO and then another $471k against Cates in the $100/$200 NLHE.
A couple of years later, Cates was asked, "What session or hand has put you on the most brutal tilt?"
''Definitely the session against Isildur when I lost $500,000,'' he replied . ''Then I thought, ‘What is this really happening? How is this even possible?' That match was a real nightmare, I just didn't understand what happened.''
Later, Cates repeatedly recalled this battle in various interviews:
''I came up with a unique strategy against Isildur, but he quickly figured me out and adjusted well. That was the reason why he didn't give me a chance in that $100/$200 match. I can't even complain that it didn't work for me. It is very rare that someone manages to understand the details of the strategy so thoroughly and so skillfully to counter them.''
Blom probably forgot about that match by the next morning, and for Cates it became life-changing.
– ''Many people know that I lost half a million to Isildur, and the next day I lost another 90,000. Lost a huge portion of my bankroll in two days. For the first time in a long time, the thought of bankruptcy came to me. If this happened again, I would go bankrupt. But I made the right decisions. I convinced myself that I still have enough money, and if I manage it wisely, I can remain a completely wealthy person. I moved down the limits, picked my opponents more carefully, and studied Isildur's strategy. All this led to one of the craziest upswings of my life. I won back the entire loss in about a month.''
In 2010, Jungleman won $5.5 million on Full Tilt and became one of the most successful high rollers of the year.
Another player who played a prominent role in the fate of Cates is Tom Dwan.
Their infamous "Challenge" started in August 2010, but they started playing each other even earlier. Moreover, the first sessions were very unsuccessful for Daniel:
''I was ready to drop everything and walk away if I lost another buy-in or two to him. Friends also advised me to abandon this confrontation, but in the end everything ended well. We played about 20,000 hands of $100/$200 and $200/$400 and I won about $1 million, about 35 buy-ins.''
Some time later, Tom issued an official challenge to everyone. The first opponent was Patrik Antonius , whom Dwan defeated quite easily. And the second was Cates.
– ''Tom offered to anyone who wanted to play PLO or NLHE with him with a side bet – his $1.5m vs $500k. The winner is the one who wins more over 50,000 hands. It was not even I who reached out, but he himself came to me. I then lived in my bubble and did not pay attention to the outside world, although I should have. I asked myself – why not win even more from him? But the proposal seemed too good, there were thoughts that there was something shady. I did not have a very high opinion of his game so agreed, but he was able to surprise me – he began to play even worse than I expected. I destroyed it, the general public found out about me, so the challenge did me a lot of good, although it is not finished yet.''
The call was interrupted in the spring of 2011 shortly before Black Friday. Out of 50,000 hands at the $200/$400 limit, only 19,335 were played, for which Jungleman won $1,251,059.
More than 10 years have passed since then, during which not a single hand has been played. Cates repeatedly said that he was ready to sit down at the tables at any moment, but Tom did not share his enthusiasm. At the same time, he continued to pay fines to his opponent for downtime. A few years ago, Jungle admitted that he had already received about $1 million.
Cates shared the latest news this summer on a podcast with Doug Polk.
''Tom and I decided to end the dispute with the help of an arbiter. And some even vouched for him – for $2 million directly on the bet and $1.5 million on the side bet. Then, this person deleted our correspondence. During arbitration, I made a big mistake – I lost my temper. I expressed my version of events, supported with evidence, but Tom did not seem to hear me. This pissed me off, and Tom said that in such circumstances it was impossible to discuss anything, and asked to postpone the arbitration. Then we were still able to agree, he proposed a list of certain conditions, to which I agreed. He still owes me $1.5 million, but has paid only a fraction of that amount so far. We also revised the fines, and we did it on his terms. In my opinion, they are too harsh, although he himself proposed them. And the man who vouched for him and promised to pay, if Dwan gets into trouble, he's ignoring me now. He is a real scoundrel. I may have to name him soon.''
– Correct me, but Phil Ivey was the original guarantor on call ?
– True, but later he said he could no longer do this
– In my understanding, a guarantor is a person to whom both parties transfer money before the start of the bet, in order to avoid just the problems that you have. Did Tom earn something for him? Or was Ivey his sponsor?
– In short, I sent my part to Ivey right away, but he never received the money for our bet from Tom.
– I see.
– It seems to me that Tom sincerely wants to get out of this situation with dignity, but for some reason he cannot. We will definitely not finish the match, this is 100%. And with Ivey, the situation was very unclear. Tom simply announced to me that Phil would be the guarantor, I did not receive any confirmation from Ivey himself on this subject. But I still transferred $500k to him, which he then returned to me without any problems. The one I'm really mad at is the man who promised to pay for Tom and is now ignoring me.
More trouble awaited Cates in April 2011. Due to Black Friday, almost his entire bankroll was stuck on Full Tilt:
– There was $4 million left on there, I was naive, I didn’t suspect the problems that would eventually show up. At the age of 21, I had not yet experienced such stressful situations. I even made a deal. If Full Tilt had defaulted, I would have got half of my bankroll, and in case of a successful resolution, which eventually materialized, I paid $450k and took my money. The bankroll freeze did not affect my life at all, I never spent a lot of money, it only affected the limits, I even had to look for backing for a while.
Cates received his money only in February 2014.
I MUST be dreaming. I got the wire for my FT balance. #Gardencity— Daniel Cates 🇺🇸 🌎 (@junglemandan) February 28, 2014
Around the same time, heads-up online at high stakes finally died, and Daniel switched to limit games, where he quickly became one of the best
''We are two of the strongest players, if we take poker in general: me and Daniel Cates,” Timofey Kuznetsov wrote in 2019 . – ''Our recipe for success is similar: a lot of talent and a lot of work.''
Jungle then focused on high-value live games and was one of the first to play short deck with Asian oligarchs.
– ''Once in Manila, I played 72 hours. The VIP player around whom the game has gathered does not really like to sleep. But I still managed to take a break for a couple of hours. I went to take a nap in my room. And in another session against him, I could no longer stand on my feet, and I was allowed to sleep for exactly one hour in the room where the game was going on, right on the chairs. I think they found it funny.''
In these games, Cates played record pots for himself:
– ''Once in Asia, I either 3-bet or 4-bet with aces. I was check-raised on the Ax7x7x flop, we shoved, and our opponent had a seven. I won, there were more than $3 million in the pot. And the biggest pot lost was in a short deck. I had kings, I was 3-bet at incredible depth – more than 200 antes. Based on tells, I realized that the opponent did not have aces and just shoved, he called with AK. The flop came AxKxx, the turn came blank, and the river hit one of his two outs. This hand was very painful, more than $3 million in the pot. Of course, I tilted, but on the whole I was good at that time, I was up a lot. In general, I tilt a lot more because of my own mistakes, I try not to pay attention to variance, I just got unlucky.''
Tournament poker Daniel is not particularly fond of, despite his excellent results. He plays exclusively the Triton Series and the $50,000 Players Championship in Las Vegas. The other day, Cates flew to Cyprus, where he will take part in a private tournament with a $200k buy-in. He received an invitation from a Chinese businessman named Wei Nan.
“Officially, I’m going to Cyprus for the cats,” Cates left a cryptic tweet a couple of days ago.
And yesterday I posted a story with a cat on Instagram.
Jungleman's new hobby is podcasts, in which he acts as a host. Over the past six months, he has recorded more than 20 episodes, among his guests were Phil Hellmuth, Patrik Antonius, Fedor Holz , Phil Galfond, Jason Koon and other poker stars. But for some reason, viewers do not favor such content. The most popular videos have no more than 2,000-3,000 views, and the latest episodes barely got 500.
There were dark spots in Daniel's rich and vibrant career.
A couple of years ago, he was involved in a private app ghosting incident involving Bill Perkins and other amateurs. Daniel apologized, and it seems that everyone quickly forgot about it.
Jungle was also the central figure in the scandal with the Portuguese fraudster José Macedo. We covered this story in detail . In 2020, Macedo suddenly appeared on the Forbes lists as one of the most promising financiers in Europe under 30 years old.