Dan “Jungleman” Cates Talks to Flushdraw
Dan “Jungleman” Cates has one of the most iconic nicknames in the high stakes poker world, and along with a few others, is considered one of the elite players in the rarefied air of the nosebleeds. So, when my publisher suggested I try to interview him for FlushDraw, I jumped at the chance to talk to a player that has always fascinated me.
After arranging a suitable time for us to both to sit down, I spoke with Dan over Skype last Friday. We started by talking about jungleman’s recent action online on both Full Tilt and PokerStars. I was surprised when Dan didn’t instantly know how he had been doing over the past month, and as I read out his results from the past 30 days (these were actually pretty nice numbers, as he was up around $350,000 on PokerStars and about $130,000 on Full Tilt), I was struck by how laid back and confident he was.
I don’t know many poker players who when asked how they were doing online would not be able to answer to at least the nearest thousand, but that’s Daniel Cates. As I asked Dan more questions about the action, it became very clear he knew exactly what had been going on during his grind. I didn’t push the point, but I guess when you’ve been doing this for as long as Jungleman, you really can put results out of your mind, and just play the best poker possible.
Not that Dan is a lover of all forms of the game, however: it didn’t take long for us to start talking about the different games being played at the highest level, and it’s safe to say he’s not going to be playing deuce-to-seven [2-7] triple draw any time soon:
Cates: I don’t think deuce-to-seven is a game where people are going to get excited. I mean if you read a  hand history, after a while it doesn’t seem that anything really interesting happens, maybe a guy raises, someone folds, and then they show the bluff. But that’s like it, nothing else can really happen really. Kind of a boring game, pretty mathematical. No-limit, however, is a kind of game where a lot of crazy stuff can happen. PLO as well, but not in the same way, and I think it’s better to watch…. The best deuce-to-seven player will sit there and number-crunch for days, which isn’t exactly going to make an interesting story.
Dan has added mixed games to his grind. I asked him, “How was the transition? Do you feel you’ve got an edge at the tables you’re sitting at? And do you have any bad games?”
Cates: So far it’s being going pretty smoothly; it’s going a little better than smoothly actually. I mean, when I talk to people about mixed games there are a few things I notice. First of all, everyone thinks everyone else sucks at mixed games. It’s ridiculous. That makes me kind of nervous, ’cause if everyone thinks everyone else sucks, then someone’s got to be wrong.
I think, ‘Looks like I’m good,’ but I don’t know if it’s too early to tell or not, but it looks like I’m doing something right. I’m still kind of nervous, though, because everyone thinks they are the best at mixed games and everyone thinks everyone else sucks, and there are people that think I suck. So… maybe?
We then talked about how Dan thinks Omaha-8 [hi-lo] is his worst game, closely followed by razz. Cates believes there are less than ten top quality players of Omaha-8, and he’s really not one of them. This is probably because he considers Omaha-8 a strange game, and every time a mixed game changes to the variant, he thinks, “Oh, God!” In his own words, Cates is “losing his ass” every time he plays that game.
When most poker fans think of Dan Cates, they think of the incomplete “durrrr Challenge”. We talked about this long overdue prop bet and with the way the challenge has been handled, I asked Dan who he thinks should be held accountable for the challenge being held in limbo.
Cates: I guess that Full Tilt had some part to play. They didn’t exactly get the business right, and that hurt me a lot. Tom, has just… it’s not even like he’s a real person. I don’t understand people who stick up for this guy. I can’t think of how anyone could think that he’s reliable. One of his friends was telling me he won’t do business with Tom, because he’s totally insane. Tom has not exactly been reliable. The guy is so flaky and this situation is so fucked up, I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the situation.
FlushDraw: I take it you’d still be happy to continue with the challenge if that was an option?
Cates: I would love to continue this challenge, I think Tom is drawing stone dead versus me. At this point I think that I’m much better than him. If he really believes he can come back and win that’d be neat, but I think he can’t own up to the fact that he has to pay out the challenge, or that he’s unable to complete it.
FlushDraw: Do you think he believes that he’s the underdog in the challenge?
Cates: I don’t really know how he thinks. I think that he just says things, and he believes some things he says. I think he’s completely delusional. He thinks that he can come back and win, and that the situation is a lot better than it actually is. I don’t know if he believes that or not, but who knows at this point? But, it kinda doesn’t really matter to me, I don’t care the reason why he’s not playing. I just care that he’s not playing! That’s all I care about, I just want to play. That or buy out, but he won’t even do that, and I don’t think he can. It’s just aggravating to me.
If you could see my phone messages with Tom, it’s just a joke. I text him, and he just ignores me and doesn’t do anything. It’s just absurd.
FlushDraw: Do you think the challenge is ever going to get finished?
Cates: I think it’s going to drag on for at least another year. I guess there’s a small chance something happens, as there are a couple of details that are sort of favorable, but I don’t really know how to interpret them. I want to say I think it’ll end in the near future, but I couldn’t say it. It seems really unfair for me how it all went down. I know I would have pulled through the challenge, even if I started out losing. It turned out that he was actually way worse that I thought he was. I just don’t know.
As for the finances involved, Dan told me that apart from the ‘challenge’ itself, he currently owes Dwan money, though that debt is currently being eaten away by the penalties Dwan is being charged as part of the challenge. Because of this arrangement, money isn’t currently passing between the two players.
Dan has been part of the high stakes poker world for a relatively long time, and he’s seen the bad side of the game as well as the good. We started to talk about the seedier side of poker, and now that poker is becoming better regulated, if it was going to become safer for the unwary. We both agreed that the improving regulatory bodies and powers were a step in the right direction, but Cates believes scamming in general is still a relatively rare occurrence. The conversation turned to the original Full Tilt, and Cates was remarkably sanguine about the situation that saw a large amount of his bankroll tied up for over three years. He doesn’t consider the collapse of the company a scam, but just the result of poor business practices by professional gamblers not being very professional in other areas.
We continued to talk about Dan’s life, and as we did, it became clear that he is happy. Not Tom-Cruise-jumping-up-and-down-on-Oprah’s-couch happy, but genuinely content and happy with his own life. He seems to have a good balance at present, and while his life isn’t for everyone, right now, it’s right for him.
As we closed the call, I was left with the impression that Dan “jungleman” Cates remains a danger to just about any other poker player’s bankroll. He knows both the game and the industry that revolves around it. I’m left with the feeling that he is doing exactly what he wants to do, in the way he wants to do it, and those who get in his way will be dealt with in a respectful and professional manner. But they will be dealt with.