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Capture the Flag: Dan Cates Talks About the State of High-Stakes Poker Games

by Brian Pempus |  Published: May 25, 2016


Maryland native Dan “jungleman” Cates is one of online poker’s legends. The cash game star has won roughly $11.3 million lifetime between PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, making him the second biggest winner in history behind Patrik Antonius.

On the live tournament circuit, Cates has cashed for roughly $3.4 million. Combine all of that with untold winnings in live cash games, and Cates is on track for possible induction in the Poker Hall of Fame one day.

With that said, Cates did experience a rare losing year online in 2015. He dropped roughly $300,000, according to tracking data from HighstakesDB. It was his first year in the red since 2009. Online poker has been getting tougher, especially with recent changes PokerStars implemented, but Cates has shown that he is likely going to stand the test of time. His understanding of poker theory, especially in pot-limit Omaha, is widely regarded as one of the best.

Card Player caught up with the 26-year-old to get his thoughts on the state of high stakes poker, both live and online, and about his recent comments that Tom Dwan lost a pot worth $20 million in Macau.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about how the recent changes to PokerStars have affected the high-stakes games, in particular the rake structure and rake-back for VIP customers?

Dan Cates: The high-stakes games online currently aren’t that good. It’s rare to see $400-$800 or whatever, but there are some good, big live games. Online poker wasn’t getting any easier, and now they are making it even harder. I don’t think they understand how being a pro works. It’s almost impossible to play one game. I think they are just trying to get more rake, which makes sense [from their end]. The real issue is that they raised the rake by like five times. I mean, it’s still beatable, but not by a massive amount.

BP: I’ve seen you tweet about some high-stakes action in the Philippines. Is that the hotbed for live games these days?

DC: Well, there are some huge games in Asia but I can’t get too specific. There are also mixed games going on the U.S. in a place like Los Angeles, and also Las Vegas. There are big games there sometimes.

BP: During the World Series of Poker, do the biggest games in the world still move to Las Vegas?

DC: Yeah. I will be coming back to Las Vegas. There were some big games last year. I was actually bouncing between tables because I didn’t know which [game] to play. Now I play basically all the games. I know the eight-game [rotation] pretty well.

BP: I guess around the time that Black Friday happened was when you had reached the top of the online poker world, so is it hard for you to see the action almost continuously take hits since then? Your defunct challenge with Tom Dwan also seems to have been a casualty.

DC: Yeah, it was way better back then…I’m still trying to get [the Durrrr Challenge] completed. I’ve been talking to Tom. Hopefully his dad gets better. He’s with his dad right now because he’s sick. We’re going to discuss it later.

BP: You said last year that almost no one is crushing it anymore at the nosebleed stakes. Would you say that the games that do run are more competitive than they have ever been?

DC: They are more competitive, but it’s still possible to win. There is a lot of room for improvement still. People were definitely playing much worse in the past. People still do obvious things wrong, in my opinion, but I think do think it’s harder to improve in this environment.

BP: You mentioned in a poker forum post that Tom Dwan lost a $20 million USD pot in Macau recently. Can you talk more about that hand?

DC: I can’t talk more about [Tom’s] hand other than that it was set-over-set; I wasn’t sure I was supposed to say that, so I don’t think I should comment any more.

BP: You said in August that you had that really rough session in Manila, losing $5 million [at $2,500-$5,000-$10,000 no-limit hold’em]. Was that your worst losing day in your career?

DC: Not at all actually. In terms of overall amount, yes, but I didn’t have all of myself. If you look at the amount it appears I got destroyed. It was a little bit misleading because in terms of buy-ins it wasn’t that much. I did lose a large amount, but you have to look at buy-ins. It was a huge game, that much is true.

BP: Is it fair to say that these live games, now that we are past the heyday of high-stakes online poker, are playing bigger than they’ve ever been?

DC: I don’t think that’s true, they just happen to be big [from time to time]. Taken as a whole, they’ve gotten smaller too, and a little bit [rarer]. High-stakes cash games don’t last forever; you need enough people who are willing to play big. Five players is a lot, and then somebody quits, and then the game doesn’t run.

BP: Do you have ever to deal with some poker room politics in order to get a seat at a juicy high-stakes game during the WSOP?

DC: There is a big game [in Las Vegas] where that is the case. One time I didn’t get a seat even though a player had been gone for two hours. The staff wouldn’t [pick up the chips]. I try to make sure that’s enforced. You can’t let someone sit out forever. That’s really ridiculous. It happens, and when it does it’s pretty annoying.

BP: What plans do you have for the WSOP?

DC: I’ll probably play the $50,000 tournament, and maybe a couple of others. Those tournaments are always something I could do, because they are quite good. If cash games are running, I’ll be playing those. It’s annoying to have to wake up at noon because the cash games run really late. To keep waking up at that hour, it’s hard because you have [logged] so many hours. Tournaments aren’t my first choice.

BP: Do you have a session length cut-off where you are like, “F—k this, I really shouldn’t be playing anymore”?

DC: (Laughs). Well, if the game is really good, I am not leaving no matter what. I will play forever. I will sleep at the table, which I have done before. Or take naps. If the game is whatever, I will get some sleep.

BP: You’ve been around for a long time now. You are no longer a newcomer to the scene. What keeps you motivated still? Is it just the money? Or is it also something else that keeps you hungry?

DC: It’s not directly about the money…I don’t know, I just like to win. I don’t need a lot to keep me motivated; I just want to win. That’s kind of my goal. Eventually, I want to do things other than poker as well, like business. There is some sort of internal ego at play.