The World Series of Poker began in 1970. What started as a private gathering of seven poker legends has blossomed into poker’s most prestigious tournament series. High-stakes competition attracts many players, each hungry for fame and fortune. Their matches are broadcast, inspiring a new generation to take the mantle. This cycle has been going on ever since the invention of hole card cameras turned poker into a spectator sport, with new players constantly appearing out of the blue and proving themselves on the world stage. Today, we’ll look at one such modern-day poker pro: Daniel “Jungleman” Cates.

Player Overview

Daniel Cates is one of the world’s most formidable modern-day poker players. He has numerous wins in tournaments including at the World Series of Poker (WSOP), World Poker Tour (WPT), and European Poker Tour (EPT). He is no stranger to high-roller tournaments, with multiple wins in the Triton Poker Super High Roller Series. Cates is also a renowned cash game player, frequently playing for high stakes both online and live. He specializes in heads-up poker, having beaten Tom “durrrr” Dwan in his heads-up challenge for $1.2 million through 19,335 hands. Cates is an exceptionally balanced poker player with over $10 million in online earnings and $12 million from live tournaments.

Early Life

Daniel Cates was born on November 14, 1989, in Bowie, Maryland. He was a video game addict, spending most of his childhood playing Command and Conquer. Thankfully, this didn’t affect his academics and he landed in the 99th percentile on the SATs, achieving perfect scores in the math section. “I mostly got straight As in all classes without having to study a lot. I didn’t really care that much. I was lazy, but despite that I got good grades,” Cates said.

Cates discovered poker in high school when he was 17. He got hooked on the game but found few opportunities to play outside of small-money sit-and-goes with his friends. Beating his friends was easy but left Cates unsatisfied. He wanted to improve and began looking for live games with strangers in his area. He lost a lot of money initially but remained determined, studying and practicing the game nonstop. “I found some people in the local neighborhood, but they were much better than me, and I lost $3,000 when I was 17, which was most of my money,” Cates told CNBC. “So my parents locked my account. And I had to get a day job at McDonald’s for a month to make some money.”

Online Career

Cates discovered online poker after graduating from high school. He began playing at the smallest stakes he could find: $5 to $10 sit-and-goes. Within a week, Cates had begun consistently winning, which led to him moving up in stakes. His iconic “jungleman12” screen name on Full Tilt Poker came from his moniker in live games.  “I had longer hair at the time, and overall I was pretty hairy as well. Supposedly I looked like Tarzan, so they started to call me Jungleman. I thought it was a funny online name, so I went with it,” Cates said. 

By May 2009, Cates had built a bankroll of $3,000. After winning a tournament for $5,000, he immediately purchased a subscription to CardRunners, an instructional poker site offering training videos and private strategy forums. Cates then moved to heads-up cash games, seeing the larger potential gains they provided. “The switch to Heads Up No Limit Hold’em was pretty natural to me, as I was already good enough to beat bad players. Once I switched to $0.25/$0.50 Heads Up I started making way more money real fast,” he recounted. 

Encounter with ‘Isildur1’

In late 2009, online cash game player “Isildur1” became an international sensation in the poker community. The mysterious figure, later revealed to be Viktor Blom, frequently played incredibly high-stakes cash games against the best of the best. He came out on top against other notable pros and online players, including Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey, and Patrik Antonius. By December, he went up against Cates in an intense heads-up battle.

Cates lost terribly. His total losses amounted to $500,000, losing a massive chunk of his bankroll. The following day, a string of losses amounting to $90,000 compounded the problem, causing Cates to worry about going broke. He took a few days off from playing poker and eventually decided to move down in stakes. “I tightened up game selection as well,” Cates said. “However, I would have played $100-$200 against a donkey [inexperienced player]. 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.”

The ‘durrrr’ Challenge

By 2010, Cates had dropped out of college and remained a dominant force in the online poker world. In July, he was challenged by Tom “durrrr” Dwan to compete in high-stakes heads-up poker. 

The rules of Dwan’s “durrrr” challenge state that he would give $1.5 million to anyone who could beat him heads-up over 50,000 hands. Dwan was one of the top cash game players in the world, but Cates was confident and prepared.

Nineteen thousand three hundred thirty-five hands later, Cates seems to be demolishing Dwan. He is up $1.2 million, and no further hands have been played since 2013. While it’s unknown whether Dwan will continue the challenge, Cates’ dominant lead holds. 

Tournament Career

Cates’ first big break in live tournaments came in 2012 with a $300,000 second-place finish in PartyPoker’s Premier League Poker V. From there, he became a high-roller tournament regular. His most considerable cash came in the 2014 European Poker Tour, winning $1,774,145. Other huge scores include a $1,000,365 third-place finish in the 2017 Triton Poker Super High Roller Series and $1,651,028 for fifth place in the 2019 Triton Poker Super High Roller Series London “Les Ambassadeurs” event. 

Cates’ two WPT titles came in the 2013 Venice High Roller and the 2014 WPT Alpha8 Johannesburg. His two bracelets came back-to-back in 2021 and 2022 in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. That event is widely considered one of the most prestigious events in the tournament due to the increased buy-in dissuading casuals from playing. It also uses H.O.R.S.E, a complex form of poker that requires players to have experience with multiple variants: Holdem, Omaha, Razz, Seven-Card Stud, and Eight-or-Better.