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Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates: Having Fun On And Off The Table

Recent WSOP Bracelet Winner Discusses Jet Set Life

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Feb 23, 2022

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Part of what made the poker boom of the early 2000s so successful and attractive to the masses was the myriad of personalities that were present in the game at the time. Professional gamblers tended to be a little on the eccentric side, and that of course made for some great television.

With a handful of notable exceptions, however, those players were slowly replaced by the current wizards that occupy the top of the high roller ranks. These are players who train like athletes, and treat the game like it’s a puzzle to be solved. (It’s not quite solved yet!)

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting a little serious, especially when there’s so much money on the line. When each decision is potentially worth hundreds if not millions of dollars, it’s hard to worry about the cameras. But not everybody is afraid to let a little of their personality show through, even on the big stage.

Take Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates, for example. The high-stakes phenom has definitely shown his stoic side at the tables in the past, but lately has been enjoying himself while still putting his opponents in the blender whenever he decides to enter a pot.

Last fall, the online crusher made the final table of the prestigious $50,000 Poker Players Championship at the World Series of Poker. This marquee mixed game event featured some of the best players in the world, but Cates didn’t hesitate to call his shot, announcing he was going to win the tournament. Perhaps he was extra determined, having finished sixth the last time the event was held in 2019.

“Everyone always says [in their winner] interview that you have to work hard and that there’s a lot of math and variance… the normal stuff, the stuff you would expect. But that’s boring. The idea came straight out of the cartoons where the characters say it’s their destiny to win.”

Whatever the reason for his confidence, Cates shocked everyone when he showed up for the CBS Sports-taped and PokerGO-live streamed final table with bright blue hair dressed as Goku from the Japanese anime series Dragon Ball Z.

It didn’t matter that there was $954,020 and his first bracelet on the line, Cates was going to put on a show win or lose.

“I went into god mode,” Cates explained, trying to channel the cartoon character’s energy. “He shouldn’t have laughed at me. He knew he was messing with a wild animal, and now he’s lost to a monkey,” he said after defeating his heads-up opponent Ryan Leng.

The 32-year-old recently appeared on Card Player’s Poker Stories podcast. (You can listen to the full episode below and on Spotify, YouTube, or any podcast app.)

When asked if his cosplay was part of some strategy to throw the others off their game, however, he admitted that it wasn’t.

“No, I was just having fun,” Cates said. “I just thought I’d be that guy, you know? Someone’s got to do it. Why not me?”

Cates has been having a lot of fun, both on and off the tables in recent years. In 2019, he stunned the poker world by starring in a very not-safe-for-work music video featuring several models playing strip poker and a graphic sex scene.

There were the fitness prop bets with Betrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier and Luke Schwartz. (He lost six figures when Schwartz did 100 burpees in 10 minutes and won from Grospellier when he was able to do 170 pushups in a row.)

Then during the pandemic, he took on a professional wrestler persona to promote a heads-up match and faux feud with fellow high-stakes pro Phil Galfond. Galfond, of course, is the owner of the training site Run It Once where Cates himself shares training videos, and is considered one of the more likable pros.

“I’ve been trying to tell people that Mr. Galfond is not as nice as people think,” Cates said, keeping the act going long after his modest loss in the match. “I know there’s something more! I’ve seen the inner conniving-ness that he’s got.”

When he’s not winning high rollers or taking down seven-figure pots in the biggest cash games on earth, Cates is living quite the interesting life. His Instagram account
(@thedancates) paints a picture of a jet-setting world traveler with an insatiable appetite for adventure.

We caught up with Cates while he was in Dubai, but a quick scan of his social media reveals other exotic locations such as Romania, Tanzania, Ibiza, and the French Alps.

He walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, went bungie jumping in South Africa, learned about his past life in India, did charity work in Ghana, and toured Petra in Jordan while riding on the back of a camel. (Picture the holy grail scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.)

“That was really cool. I was visiting a charity that helps kids that are stranded or orphaned from war or need medical aid. The people of Jordan are very hospitable,” he said. “We also got to see the place where Christ was baptized and where Moses last spoke.”

It’s a far different lifestyle than the one Cates saw growing up in Bowie, Maryland. Cates was a bit antisocial as a child and obsessed over video games such as Command and Conquer. He found poker at 17, and would play with scraps of paper with anybody he could convince at his high school. Not able to find any action, he turned to online play, even rebuilding his bankroll with a job at McDonald’s after initially going broke.

“It was soul crushing. I had heard about these day jobs, and they sounded terrible,” he recalled. “And along came poker. I was sitting there thinking, ‘Well, I like to be free and not have my own boss.’ That’s kind of where poker started. I just wanted to be my own boss and be free. With [video] games, I’d gotten good eventually. I had that experience and had confidence that it could happen again [with poker.]”

His family wasn’t very supportive initially. Even his grandma gave him a hard time.
“She said I couldn’t bluff.”

He was able to prove them wrong, however, moving from 25¢-50¢ to $25-$50 in just two years. Before jumping up in stakes, he would make sure he was ready by taking on the top players at each limit.

“I would try to play them all and try to beat everyone. That was what I did.”

Before he was even 21 and could legally gamble in a casino, he had already reached the biggest games available online and battled with some of the most notable crushers around. Ten years later and the results are still the same, except now he occasionally pops up to compete in a high roller tournament or two. HighStakesDB.com has ranked Cates as third biggest cash game winner in online poker history, and that’s just on the limited number of sites that are tracked.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however. Over the years he has revealed more than a few occasions of misfortune. There was a huge hit to his bankroll following a loss to Viktor “Isildur1” Blom, which he was able to quickly get back. There was another $5 million loss in Manila.

And then there was the time he lost a HKD$200 million pot, which today converts to a little less than $26 million USD.

“It was on this secret Asian site. I got it in with kings and the other guy had A-K. The flop was A-K-6, and I tried to buy insurance, but the site was in Chinese. The turn was a seven, and the river was an ace. So it makes for a great story because I lost a 200 million pot right there.”

Cates has always been focused on cash games, but he has amassed nearly $10 million in earnings on the live tournament circuit, playing almost exclusively high roller events. His tournament record looks much like his passport, with only four of his 25 career cashes coming in the U.S.

One of those domestic cashes, of course, was his first bracelet victory at the WSOP in Las Vegas, banking nearly $1 million in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. Despite his earlier proclamation, it was an unlikely win for Cates, especially considering he was all-in for just half a bet and drawing dead during three-handed play.

In a hand some have called ‘the worst fold in poker history,’ Cates was able to escape near-certain elimination against three-time WSOP bracelet winner Ryan Leng, who talked himself into folding the winner that would have sent Jungleman to the rail.

“’Oh my god, no way he folds an ace,’ and then he shows it and then pitches it,” Cates recalled. “I just can’t f***ing believe it. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I won the tournament from this point?”

Leng, who has been one of the top performers at the series in recent years, was complimentary in defeat.

“I mean, Jungle is Jungle. He’s one of the best. He’s got to have a 160 IQ or more. He’s a genius, a brilliant poker player. We all know he’s ‘out there’ and a goofball, but I got wrecked by Jungle, and I feel no shame in that whatsoever.”

With the win, Cates crossed his name off the unofficial ‘Best Without A Bracelet’ list. While he was happy to come out on top and score the gold, don’t expect him to gun too hard for another.

“Actually, when I first got it, I didn’t even really know what a bracelet was. Like, I didn’t know you could wear it on your arm. I thought it was like a necklace or something.”

One thing that is high on his priority list, however, is his latest escapade. Cates plans on attempting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in February.

“To be honest, I didn’t think it would be that intense when I signed up for it. I knew it was the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, but I didn’t realize the training was actually a pretty big undertaking. A lot of gym training, but the main thing is really the atmospheric conditions. That’s the main thing that can go wrong.”

Despite the danger, (Only 61 percent of climbers reach the peak and 77 percent experience altitude sickness) Cates is looking forward to the latest challenge he has given himself.

“I thought it would be a good bonding experience with some cool people and just a good life experience. I also thought it would be good for my brand.”

True to form, Cates is tying the climb to a partnership with Tembo, a children’s education initiative. You can learn more about Dan’s charitable efforts in Ghana at DanCatesFoundation.com. Follow him on Twitter @junglemandan or Instagram @thedancates. ♠

*Photo credits: Antonio Abrego/ PokerGO, Erik Fast

Top Tournament Scores

Date Event Finish Payout
April 2014 €100,000 EPT Monte Carlo NLHE 2nd $1,776,127
Aug. 2019 £250,000 Triton London Short Deck 5th $1,651,028
Feb. 2017 HKD$1M Triton Manila NLHE 3rd $1,009,470
Nov. 2021 $50,000 WSOP Poker Players Championship 1st $954,020
March 2018 HKD$2M Super High Roller Bowl China 10th $741,875
May 2019 HKD$300,000 Triton Montenegro Short Deck 1st $510,900
Aug. 2019 £100,000 Triton London NLHE 8th $500,200
Feb. 2014 $100,000 WPT Alpha8 Johannesburg 1st $500,000
May 2018 HKD$250,000 Triton Montenegro Short Deck 2nd $415,870
Nov. 2016 HKD$200,000 Triton Manila NLHE 1st $362,167