Interview with Daniel Cates
When it comes to big names in the high stakes poker-scene, they don't come much bigger than Daniel «jungleman12» Cates. The 22-year old has crushed virtually every opponent he has come across, and was by far the biggest winner online in 2010 with a staggering $5,5 million profit. His confidence and his ability was illustrated perfectly when he took on challenges from both durrrr and Isildur1, yet when he issued a €100 000 challenge of his own, nobody showed up to play.
The beginning of Daniel Cates' poker career, however, was far from illustrious. After playing $5 and $10 Sit & Go tournaments with his friends – using little pieces of paper for betting – the interest was lit, but he eventually found himself in home games with less friendly people.
"My friends weren't as interested in poker as I was, so I had to search for games on my own. I ended up playing $0.50/$1 and $1/$2 games live. I lost about $3,000 in those games, getting hustled along the way; people cheated, lied, scammed, didn't return payments; it was just shady across the board."
He eventually dropped down in stakes, and got out of the home games. After studying the game he found his way online, and grinded his way back up playing low stakes Sit & Gos. This is where things start to become incredible:
"In the summer of 2008 I decided to sit down in a heads-up cash game, and ended up winning $300. This was a lot more than I would normally win in my Sit & Gos, and it just seemed like there was a lot more money to be made in those games, so I focused on heads-up cash from that point on. In February 2009 I reached the $25/$50 stakes."
Two similar-sounding words spring to mind: “Wow” and “how?”.
"I put in a decent amount of hands, and I was aggressive with my bankroll. I also ran well at the right times; I remember running very well at $2/$4 and $10/$20, for instance. I wanted to play against better players so I could get better myself, and to improve my hourly win-rate in the long-run; that was the reasoning behind my aggressive bankroll management at the time. If you want to improve your game it is vital to play against better players than yourself, and also think of how you could exploit the weaker ones further. Competition is a big motivation for me. I want to be the best, so I always look for ways in which I can improve."
A constant willingness to improve and a desire to be the best seem to be recurring themes with Cates. He says he had the same drives when he used to play the video game Command and Conquer, at what was at least a semi-competitive level. Many other poker professionals, like ElkY and RainKahN to name a few, also come from a video game-background, and Cates sees a correlation:
"Video games teach you to think logically and be creative, which poker requires."
$5,500,000 PROFIT IN A YEAR
A logical and creative mind is not all it takes to reach the same heights as Jungleman12 has, however. After dipping his toes in the $25/$50 games in 2009, what were his expectations a year later?
" I did expect to win millions in 2010."
And so he did; five and a half of them, to be exact. Again, how does he do it?
" You obviously need ability. In addition, I think I have a tendency to look at things objectively, and not be too biased towards myself. That year was obviously very good, and if my morale gets low during losing-streaks – yes, they do happen – I can take some confidence from the knowledge that I was the biggest winner online last year."
Very few are blessed with a poker-mind similar to the one of Cates, so you and I will probably have to wait in vain for a $5M poker-year, but Jungleman12 does recommend something that has helped him greatly on his way to the top, and that is available for everyone: tracking software. He has even suggested that not using tracking software is a mistake.
"It is certainly important, especially while multi-tabling. Tracking software allows you to adapt to your opponents much quicker, and there are also many details of opponents' play that you simply cannot track consciously – at least reliably."
He does however not consider himself reliant on these tools:
"I manage fine without them live, for instance. If anything I would imagine they help one's live game, because they allow you to become more aware of how others are playing."
BLACK FRIDAY – MILLIONS LOCKED UP
In an interview after Black Friday, Jungleman12 saw the positives, saying that it allowed him to focus on other things than poker. Now, however, he is a bit more in-tune with the rest of the poker-world:
"Black Friday did allow me to focus more on health, being social and enjoying life. It had been ages since I had a similar-sized break, and while it probably was somewhat detrimental to my game, it allowed be to feel grateful for the things I have now and the things I once had - for instance, the freedom to play poker online. However, I now think Black Friday screwed everything. There are obvious issues with the situation on a large scale, but to me, personally, the main problem is obviously having millions locked up on FTP. In addition, not being able to play online has quite simply made making money more difficult, and it also caused problems with the «durrrr-challenge» and various other inside issues."
Cates, true to form, still manages to end on a positive note, and smilingly says:
"I conveniently lost a lot on UB right before Black Friday happened, but won a lot on Stars. He thinks there is a decent chance that he will see his money again, but thinks it will take some time. In the midst of the saga he also considered taking legal action to recoup his funds, but the costs turned out to be too great and, quote, “it seemed more +EV not to take any action at the time”."
DOYLE SEEMED OFFENDED
However, just after Black Friday the poker-media's eye was turned towards Jungleman12 for a completely different reason than the millions he had locked up. After Doyle Brunson's infamous Twitter-post (“Now maybe we will see if these online “superstars” can play real poker. Ante up suckers!”), Cates took offence:
"His comment kind of read like a needle to players with money online. I met him later in Bobby's Room and he seemed offended. He complained that I called him a douche; now, I did not mean to call him a douche. I meant that his comment was “douchey” at the time. I can't say I really enjoyed that meeting."
DURRRR CHALLENGE COULD RESUME, ISILDUR1 ONE OF THE BEST
Black Friday also meant that the "durrrr challenge" had to be put on hold. At the time it hit, Cates was in a very healthy $1,25M lead after approximately 20,000 hands of $200/$400 and was in prime position to pick up the additional $1,500,000 reward for beating Dwan over 50,000 hands. The two players have however not come to an arrangement yet, but the railbirds will be happy to learn that the door is still open for a second wind of Jungleman12 vs. durrrr action:
"The challenge is currently on hold, but we are trying to come to an arrangement. I would like to see durrrr either commit more to the challenge, or settle. He agreed to play 5,000 hands a month, but has not lived up to that agreement at all. At this rate the challenge finishes in 2015, no joke. That said, if it does resume, it will be publicized."
Another challenge, which did not turn out too well for Cates, was the "Isildur1 Superstar Showdown". Jungleman12 was defeated by a $50,000 margin after 2,500 hands of $50/$100 NLHE, but remains full of praise of his nemesis:
"I did make a few mistakes during the showdown, and I did not run well. However, Isildur is a very good player at heads-up in general; he is very aggressive and adjusts well."
And who is the toughest opponent out there?
"Isildur is one of them"
LIVE VS ONLINE.
After US players were banned from playing online poker, many professionals immediately re-located in order to keep playing online. Cates was a bit slower out of the gate, but ended up deciding on Vancouver. However, that plan took an unexpected turn for the worse as he was denied entry, and even banned from entering Canada for a whole year, when he showed up without a visa. Thus he has been forced to focus more on the live scene:
"I played live a decent amount before Black Friday, but I have been playing more and more since. I have mostly been playing $500/$1,000 NLHE and PLO at Aria and Bellagio, but I am also trying to learn mixed games. I play those at significantly lower stakes, however, though I am up life-time at mixed."
The high stakes poker-scene is a world of few inhabitants, which means that Cates regularly runs into players in the live-arena that he has battled with online. He says that the information he has on an online-player is still applicable to their live-game:
"I try to remember all the details from people I play in case I run into them in the future. If you know how someone plays online, you can play properly versus them live immediately. If you had no prior knowledge, however, it would take quite a bit of time given the small samples of live poker."
Cates can reveal that even though his main focus will remain on cash games, be it live or online, we will be seeing him in more live tournaments in the future:
"I will not be playing live tournaments full time, but I will be playing more of them. I would like to do well in tournaments, so I will be working on improving that part of my game, just as I always work to improve my cash game; I take all the games I play seriously – If I think I'm making a mistake, I promptly fix it. I haven't had much tournament success so far, but I have only played about 30 of them life-time. They also involve way more variance than people think; it's much easier to notice the times that someone runs hot than the times someone bricks!"
After he was denied entry to Canada, Jungleman12 decided to move to London so he could keep playing online. So far he has an ambivalent impression of living in Europe:
"London is OK, but I think I would have liked Vancouver more. There are advantages, though; there is more freedom in Europe, it's generally a lot more liberal. The environment is nicer, and so are the people. That said, I miss my friends and the general convenience of being set up in the US. Poker-wise there aren't that many big live games here, so most of my poker-playing in London happens online."
THE €100 000 CHALLENGE.
Before going to EPT Prague, Cates issued a challenge to the poker world; he would take on anyone in a live game for a minimum buy-in of €100 000. He said that the challenge was issued to get some action, as he “wanted to get a big game going”. As it turned out, nobody accepted. Tony G was, as usual, the loudest, and somewhat paradoxically stated that he had an edge on Cates in the live-arena – but still wanted an incentive to play him heads-up.
"I just gotta laugh if he thinks he has an edge, especially if he wants an incentive."
We have seen some incredible rises and some spectacular falls in the nosebleed-games in the past few years, Isildur1 probably being the best example of both categories. Bankroll management is an easy concept to grasp, but from the evidence alluded to above, it is apparently more difficult to apply in practice – even for the professionals. Even though Cates himself was quite aggressive with his own bankroll management in the beginning, he still considers it an important factor of the game:
"Bankroll management is important if you're interested in in long-term results and low stress. Moving down in stakes is something I have fortunately not had to do much of, but I still think I would be able to do it if it was necessary; for example, I play much lower stakes than usual when I play mixed games, where I do not consider myself a particularly good player. That said, it would certainly suck, and I would probably struggle to go through with it."
And on the question of why he thinks he would struggle with moving down in stakes, he replies in typical Jungleman12-fashion:
"Pride. I want to be the best."