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A Poker Life -- Daniel 'Jungleman12' Cates

20-Year-Old Online Cash-Game Pro Talks About His Poker Career

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Daniel 'Jungleman12' CatesEven though poker pro Daniel “Jungleman12” Cates isn’t old enough yet to play in a casino, he is one of the most feared cash-game players in the world.

Cates, who recently began competing in the Durrrr Challenge, has quickly risen from playing micro-stakes and working at McDonald’s just a few years ago, to being one of the biggest winners in the high-stakes online world so far in 2010. Cates is up nearly $3 million this year in cyberspace

Here is a look at his poker journey.

The Meteoric Rise

Cates began his poker education in high school.

“I started playing about three years ago — $5 or $10 games during my junior and senior years,” said Cates, who was nicknamed jungle man for his crazy play in live games. “I did well at those.”

Once Cates graduated from high school he began playing $100 to $200 buy-in live cash games. He played those for a few months and lost a lot of money at first.

It wasn’t long before Cates decided to try his hand at online poker. With depleted funds, he dropped down in stakes and was playing $5 and $10 buy-in no-limit hold’em games on the virtual felt.

Cates entered the University of Maryland to study computer science, and as his freshman year progressed he was playing exclusively online. He kept moving up and up in stakes. For awhile he experimented with sit-n-gos and tournaments. However, even with success outside of ring games, Cates gravitated back to his bread and butter.

Once his bankroll was blossoming, Cates began playing $50 buy-in heads-up cash games.

“It seemed like I could make a lot more money playing heads-up,” said Cates, who supplemented his play with poker books and educational videos.

As it would turn out, the switch ignited the quintessential rise through the poker hierarchy.

“It took a couple months to get from $50 no-limit to $200 no-limit,” Cates said. “I was running pretty hot and just wasn’t losing. I then hit a bit of a downswing, and it took about a month to get to $2-$4 and then $3-$6. After another month I was playing $5-$10. And to get from $5-$10 to $10-$20 took another two months or so.”

Even though his ascension happened rapidly, Cates rarely played above his bankroll.

“I didn’t really skip any levels,” Cates said. “I wasn’t too aggressive with my bankroll. I didn’t have a buy-in rule, but I always had a decent amount of buy-ins, and the amount went up as I moved up in stakes. For $5-$10 I had almost 40 buy-ins.”

While Cates was crushing the middle stakes online, his interest in class and schoolwork was dwindling. Cates was going to class less and less. Poker was consuming his mental capabilities.

“I have always thought of myself as pretty smart, if not really, really smart,” Cates said. “I’ve had high self-esteem for that reason. Poker wasn’t the first thing I became really good at by practicing over and over again. Many times over my childhood, I would watch myself go from being almost talentless at something to absolutely amazing at it — an example being minesweeper. I became really good at the game, and other random games. I thought the same process would happen with poker, if I kept working at it — I could do anything I wanted.”

The Isildur1 Disaster

Even though Cates’ ride from $10-$20 to the nosebleed stakes was relatively smooth, there was one hiccup that nearly ended his poker career.

In December of last year, Cates and cash-game sensation Isildur1 sat down for a intense heads-up battle. When it was all over, Cates had lost $500,000.

"The thought, 'oh sh-t, I might go broke,' started running through my mind because that was a huge chunk of my bankroll at the time."

“When I lost $500,000 to Isildur1 and lost $90,000 the next day, the thought, ‘oh sh-t, I might go broke,’ started running through my mind because that was a huge chunk of my bankroll at the time,” Cates said. “I took a few days off after that. Other than that, I haven’t been in danger of going broke for a very long time.”

After the massive hit to his bankroll, Cates did exactly what he says is crucial for poker players to do when it’s necessary — move down in stakes.

“I tightened up game selection as well,” Cates said. “However, I would have played $100-$200 against a donkey. I moved down to playing mostly $50-$100 and lower. It’s really upsetting to have to move down, but sometimes you have to do it.”

After the worst downswing in his young career, Cates went on one of his biggest heaters. It wasn’t long before his bankroll was back to where it had been.

“I didn’t expect to win it all back as fast as I did,” Cates said. “It helped to run well after the match with Isildur1. I tried to remember that I still grinded, that I didn’t take any stupid shots in my career, and that I could still make a lot of money playing poker. I thought about how much money I had made that year in a vacuum. It just helped to think the big loss wouldn’t matter that much after awhile.”

The Durrrr Challenge

In 2010, with his place firmly established in the high-stakes online world, Cates received an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Tom DwanIn late July, Tom “durrrr” Dwan proposed that Cates compete in the second installment of the Durrrr Challenge, and it didn’t take long before the two online regulars started dueling at $200-$400 no-limit hold’em. Through just 6,820 hands, Cates is up just under $700,000.

In preparation for the 50,000-hand match, Cates said he has done meditation and tried to have a positive state of mind before each session against Dwan.

Cates began his journey to the top of the poker world when Dwan was already playing nosebleed stakes at Full Tilt Poker.

“I believe the first time I saw the screen name “durrrr” he was playing $500-$1,000 versus Phil Ivey," Cates said. “I had no idea who he was.”

However, it didn’t take long before the two online phenoms met on the virtual felt as peers.

Although Dwan has been one of the most feared cash-game players for the past couple years, Cates is extremely confident in his match versus the 24-year-old Dwan.

“I have beaten him really badly before at no-limit hold’em, and fundamentally I understand that he has leaks in that game,” said Cates, who is up significantly lifetime versus Dwan. “It seems his no-limit game is weaker than his pot-limit Omaha game right now. It seems likely I have an edge in hold’em. I think he just believes he’s better than me and wants to prove it in a grandiose way.”

Even with the confidence, the decision whether or not to sell some of the action ran through his mind.

“I briefly wanted 100 percent of myself, but it was a stupid idea,” Cates said. “I talked to other people, and they convinced me it was a bad idea because I could legitimately go broke in the event I had 100 percent of myself, and I run terribly. For a while I entertained the idea, but it didn’t take too much to convince me otherwise. Going broke isn’t very pleasant.”

The Future

With a mountain of success and a looming 21st-birthday in November, Cates recently decided to take an indefinite break from the University of Maryland to pursue his poker career full-time.

However, Cates, who hasn’t used much of the money he has won for purchases, plans on first celebrating the milestone birthday and then focusing on expanding his poker boundaries.

“I’ve rented tables at clubs and thrown a few party buses before, but other than that — I got a new Lexus — and that’s pretty much it,” Cates said. “However, for my birthday the first thing I’m going to do is throw a big party, and the only immediate poker change would be playing live more often — probably both tournaments and cash games. For now I’m going to try and not spend too much, and just invest in making more money.”

Cates has his eye on the WSOP next summerCates said that the 2011 World Series of Poker is an investment that is already on his mind — making him one of the players to look at out for next summer at the pinnacle of the live tournament year.

Even with the soon-to-be ability of playing in any live tournament in the United States, Cates said he will always primarily focus on cash games.

“Tournaments are significantly higher variance than cash games, so it is especially frustrating to make a living playing only tournaments,” said Cates, who plans on traveling to London soon. “I’m never going to play exclusively tournaments, but I will be playing a lot of them in the near future.”

Now that he has become one of poker’s elite, Cates, who coaches several students via his position as an instructor at the poker training site Card Runners, is determined to stay there. He said he is going to be playing poker for a very long time and doesn’t see himself ever working a 9-5 job.

Even with the notoriety that has come along with his success in poker, Cates has not forgotten about his humble beginning in the game he was told not to pursue.

“My family didn’t think highly of it at all,” Cates said. “They didn’t want me to keep playing. My grandma told me I didn’t have much talent in poker. However, I thought I would eventually be good at the game if I kept practicing and not playing too high. It surprises me how much faith I had in myself to keep playing when everyone told me I shouldn’t. It’s also pretty shocking, because I had a rough start and never expected to rise this quickly.”

Behind the massive bankroll, the attention from the poker world, and the thrill of competing against the game’s best, is a young poker pro who has found happiness from accomplishing his goals.

“At one point pretty early on, I had a dream of playing Phil Ivey at $500-$1,000. It just became a reality not too long ago. I once thought — or hoped — it would happen. I think it was somewhat of a fantasy at first. In the beginning I thought I had some kind of shot, however I had no idea how real it was. My success has definitely made me significantly happier and changed my life a lot.”