Daniel Cates’ last few years can be summarized as a giant rollercoaster. The poker phenomenon is one of the biggest winners in online history, but most of that money is still locked up on Full Tilt Poker. Cates has been involved in some more negative news with regards to the Girah scandal, while on the other hand he’s being owed several millions by people not paying for cross booked, and other betting action.
To cut a long story short there’s a lot to talk about with the poker legend known as Jungleman. In this two-part interview with iGaming.org Cates talks extensively about his lonely childhood, his rise to fame and the ensuing problems that came with his newly earned riches.
A Loner in School
“I grew up in Bowie, Maryland near Washington DC, in an upper middle class household. I didn’t get along with my family that well, but it was not like we were fighting all the time. I was mostly isolated and played a shit ton of video games after discovering them,” Cates started recalling some of his early childhood memories.
“In school I was pretty lonely, as I didn’t have many friends and I wasn’t too good at making them. I was good at school, very good actually, and I went to the only magnet school in the area called Eleanor Roosevelt High School where I was in the science and tech program,” Cates said. Interestingly enough one of the Google founders, Sergey Brin, also attended this school. Cates ended up finishing high school, but not in the way his parents had envisioned, as he directed all his attention towards playing video games.
“I mostly got straight As in all classes without having to study a lot. I didn’t really care that much. I was lazy, but despite that I got good grades,” Cates said.
“My parents thought I was going to be a recluse when I grew up. They tried to make me stop playing video games and limit them. That wasn’t really happening, even though they put up a lot of resistance towards it. I played Command and Conquer for a while and was one of the best in the world at that game. I wasn’t the absolute best, but the people that were better than me also played a lot more. My methods for getting better also weren’t perfect, but I did learn, partly, from that game how to get better at poker,” Cates said.
“It’s more about thinking, talking and watching other people play when you want to get better, as opposed to just playing as much as you can. It’s worth it to study what other people do, even though I really don’t like watching other people play. It’s not just to see what they do better, but also to see how they think,” Cates said, as he became a highly skilled video game player, and later on, one of the best poker players in the world.
“I was basically trying to resist my parent’s ways and live in my own world. I didn’t have a goal with the things I did, but I did think I would eventually major in computer science or some other technical field. It’s because I was really good at that stuff, but eventually I found poker in high school. I tried to play a lot, but it was hard to get a game going. I did however beat my friends for small money in Sit and Gos pretty consistently. The other guys were horrible of course and over time I wanted to play more. I started discovering some home games in the area where players were better, and I lost a lot of money in those games. I still really wanted to get better so I started practicing and reading books about the game,” Cates said, as he did show the focus his parents wanted on his school for poker.
“I never really spent money while I did some paid internships. From the $6,000 I had saved up I must’ve lost about $3,000 playing in that stupid game when I was just 17. Because I had little else to do I kept playing, as I knew I could win money at it somehow. At live poker it took me a while to start winning and part of the problem was that there were some players in that game that were not honest. They cheated me out of a lot of money,” Cates mentioned, still sounding annoyed over what happened all those years ago.
Daniel Cates during the EPT London Super High Roller
“I found out they were cheating me because strange things would happen, like the following hand. I had queens and a guy who was sitting next to me kept encouraging me to raise. ‘Raise me Jungle, I’ve got jacks,’ he kept saying. We get to the flop, which was jack-four-two, and now he changed his story to having ace-jack. On the turn or the river another jack comes out and now he doesn’t even know what to say anymore. Eventually he shows down aces, and during the entire hand I kept thinking, ‘Why is this guy doing this?’ but I wasn’t very good at poker at that time. In retrospect I knew that he saw my cards and wanted me to re-raise because he had aces,” Cates said.
Online poker proved to be a great way to both work on getting better, but also play without having to go to a live game. There was however one big problem, he wasn’t 18 yet. Cates did however manage to get money online, but in the end he was locked out of playing for a few months.
“There was actually something important that happened early on in my poker career. I used my credit card to deposit money into a friend’s account, and Full Tilt froze my account because they thought I was multi accounting. Because I was 17 at the time I couldn’t get my account unlocked until I turned 18. I only had $400 in my account and I was so excited to play, but scared that it was all gone because I had deposited for a friend. A few months later, when I turned 18, my account was reinstated and luckily for me the money was still in there,” Cates said.
Grinding To The Top
“I started playing online with the smallest stakes, five and ten dollar Sit and Gos. It took me only a week and a half before I started winning, and from that point on, I started moving up,” Cates said.
“The name Jungleman comes from playing in the live games. I had longer hair at the time, and overall I was pretty hairy as well. Supposedly I looked like Tarzan, so they started to call me Jungleman. I thought it was a funny online name, so I went with it. My PokerStars name predates that by the way, I made that one when I was 13 and started playing for play money,” Cates said about his PokerStars name w00ki3z.
“I really wanted to create a new account when I was older, but I was too afraid they would think I was multi accounting so I never did. On Full Tilt I actually also wanted to make a new account because I kept hearing about other players creating new accounts in order to get rakeback and I wanted that too. Ultimately I ended up not doing it because I thought it was dishonest, ironically in the end I still got fucked over for multi accounting,” Cates said about the situation surrounding Jose “Girah” Macedo from August 2011.
“I wasn’t moving up the stakes that quickly when I first started, as I was playing Sit and Gos. It was in November 2008 when I started playing a lot and by May 2009 I had a roll of about $3,000. At that point I won a tournament for about $5,000, and all of a sudden I had some profit after getting cheated out of that money earlier. I withdrew the $5,000, and I finally had money in my bank account and immediately took a CardRunners subscription. Soon after that, I moved to heads up cash games because I realized how much money there was in there,” Cates said about the form of poker he still predominantly plays today.
Bit by bit Cates started playing higher stakes after subscribing for CardRunners. Interestingly enough he managed to move up to a point where he was playing against the guys he was watching videos of.
“I idolized them a little in the beginning, especially guys like Cole South and Brian Townsend because they were the sickest. I watched all their videos, but against them specifically it didn’t help me too much. It did help me against Aaron Jones somewhat, since I could tell he was a bit nitty. He was making tons of folds so I was bluffing him a lot. The videos though helped me a lot with my game in general,” Cates said.
“The switch to Heads Up No Limit Hold’em was pretty natural to me, as I was already good enough to beat bad players. Once I switched to $0.25/$0.50 Heads Up I started making way more money real fast.”
“My life basically continued just like it was back when I played video games. I played a lot, even though I went to college. For the longest time I didn’t make any friends in college because I was playing online poker. I would go to college sometimes, but my grades weren’t that good because my focus was just on playing poker. The things that were working pretty well for me in high school did not go so well in college. Technical college classes are way harder than poker, let me tell you that, especially if you’re taking upper math classes and shit like that,” Cates said, as he was getting closer and closer to dropping out.
“My grades were suffering, but I was making lots of money so that was a very exciting time for me. I had more money than everyone I knew, so that was pretty cool. My parents were letting me do my own thing, even though they were not happy at all about my grades. A consequence of that was that I had to pay for my own tuition,” Cates said as he chuckled.
“They were paying it at first, but they didn’t want to anymore when my grades sucked so much. I ended up paying for my own tuition and at that point they also said I should cash out some of the money I won. This was at a point where I was making real money, like six figures, and college became more of a burden to me. I was making so much money that I thought, ‘why the fuck should I continue anyways’ because the prospect of getting a job and starting at $40,000 a year wasn’t interesting at all anymore when you’re making that kind of money,” Cates said while at that point he still wasn’t old enough to order a drink at a bar.
“At the end of my junior year I dropped out of college, because I failed a class that I needed in order to graduate. It didn’t help that I choose a hard major, computer science, and the idea of having to do two semesters all over again wasn’t very tempting. Right after I dropped out I went to the UK to play some tournaments, and that was also the year I won about $5,000,000 in total, so I wasn’t too unhappy with my decision,” Cates said, as he became a famous poker player after being a low stakes player just a year prior.
“Winning more than $5,000,000 in one year didn’t do that much to me really, but it did make me feel like I was the best poker player ever,” Cates laughed.
Cates took a brief pause before he continued, “Making that kind of money did facilitate me meeting new people and making some new friends because I was no longer just playing in my own room. I have to say, it was not the best foundation to make new friends when it’s based on how famous or rich you are. It doesn’t mean though that everybody you meet is a bad person, and I was happy it opened up a whole new world for me,” Cates said.
Cates became a part of the, so-called, rich and famous almost overnight and the young successful poker player admitted that had he always dreamed of something like this.
“Yes, for sure. Everyone wants something like that,” Cates said after which he immediately explained that the flip side of money and fame wasn’t nearly as much fun.
“I made a number of mistakes in that first period of success. For example I was pretty bad at the business side of poker, but I think I’ve improved a lot over time. If I had any idea what I was doing I could’ve won a hell of a lot more in the Durrr Challenge by selling at mark up. Besides that, I also shouldn’t have made that bet with Viffer, which was fucking stupid when I look back on it. I should’ve made sure I wasn’t getting screwed over, but later of course I found out he wasn’t the most reliable person,” Cates said angrily.
Cates has been on the losing end of some bets and cross books over the years, and he let his frustration out by explaining the situation he got into with another high stakes poker player.
In Part 2 of this interview you can read more about a player who outed an underage Cates at the tables in Las Vegas. This ended up costing him $30,000, but it's nothing in comparison to the $1,900,000 he's being owed by David 'PerkyShmerky' Lerner, all of which he'll explain in detail in the final part of this interview. Cates also elaborates on the Durrrr Challenge and how much he thinks it's going to cost Dwan to buy off the bet.
Photo credit: PokerNews.com