Before Black Friday you also played a lot side by side with Dan 'Jungleman' Cates. What was that like?
That was one of the best parts of my professional poker career, definitely. That was pretty much my high point. It's hard to say otherwise. I used his knowledge extremely well and I learned a lot from watching him play. Because of that, I watched him play a lot since I knew he was better than me. We weren't really playing PLO until way later and I mostly watched him when we were playing No Limit. Not even just seeing how he plays, but his thought process really helped my game.
Would you say you would've never reached that high level without his help?
I wouldn't say that because I was already playing $5/$10, which I got up to all by myself. Those are obviously not huge stakes, but I was already doing very decent. Maybe I wouldn't have gotten to the highest stakes without him but I probably could've become a consistent winner on $25/$50. It's really hard to say how much he actually helped me, but I will say that my heads up game got a lot better because of him. But at something like 6-Max I don't think he really helped me, I was already quite decent at that.
What are some of those small differences that he helped you elevate your game from a $5/$10 winner to someone who played the Nosebleeds with confidence?
I actually don't think there's that much of a skill difference between the Nosebleeds and a good $25/$50 game. There definitely is a little bit but it's mainly having an overall better strategy than your opponent. It wasn't a specific thing that made me play better, or something mentally, but he just made my overall game slightly better. Understanding how he thinks about hands and how to think about ranges heads up helps with making less and less little mistakes. Eventually, once you get to those stakes, it's not about making mistakes but about making the correct ranges versus ranges. He just did a very good job at teaching me how to set up heads up ranges.
Is he, Jungleman, the most talented poker player in the world? He taught you a lot while you became one of the best high stakes players in the months before Black Friday?
He's an extremely intelligent person, the smartest person I've met. I helped him a little bit with his game as well and for every five things he taught me I maybe taught him one thing in return. I did learn a little bit about the game myself since I played so much poker.
Is there one highlight from your time playing with him which you can recall? Maybe one session or a certain hand you really celebrated over?
I can't really think of it. A lot of times people think about a certain player and one specific hand or game he played in as being the biggest thing of his career. There wasn't anything like that for me. I've both won and lost huge amounts in my career multiple times, so there's nothing that specifically stands out.
So there's no screaming and running around the room when you three-outer someone for $300,000?
I usually don't say much while he's (Cates) pretty vocal. If he's on tilt he gets pretty annoying, I won't lie. That's pretty frustrating, but when he's running good he does the same. Unless I'm running extremely terrible I don't do too much. Even if I get really lucky I don't really do too much, I don't know why. I've also never destroyed any keyboards or stuff like that after losing a lot. The same goes for Jungleman I think, but he's probably come closer!
Oh, now that I think of it I once threw a whole bunch of poker chips against the wall after losing a $380,000 pot against Gus Hansen. I was already stuck $600,000 at that point and that's the only time I recall doing such a thing. Despite being down about $800,000 during the session I ended up losing around $300,000 to him. In that specific hand I actually got it in really bad so I had no right to complain. (laughs)
In the poker community people love talking about who is the best. Do you believe in such a thing, that one player is the best?
Poker is so weird. It's a lot like rock-paper-scissors. One person will beat the next person and that one will beat the first person. Some people are definitely better than others and are able to adjust faster. In many cases I think that one person might win over the first 5,000 hands but in the long run the other will be able to do a better job adjusting to his opponent.
I don't really think though that there's one specific player who's the best at a certain game. Even back when I was playing there wasn't such a player. Everyone had their mistakes and you just had to catch them on a bad day. A lot of times people you thought were very good just ran super hot against you. I forgot who it was, but a long time ago I played versus someone heads up who I thought was really good. I talked to my friends about it and they all thought he was terrible. I kept playing him and after a while I realized that he just had it every single hand. Poker is such a funny game where something like that happens. I feel like it's impossible to say who's the best but I guess you can go by who wins the most. But then again, that doesn't mean much.