When the World Series of Poker rolls into Las Vegas at the end of May, the biggest circus in poker will bring with it every act under the sun. From first-timers to series regulars, all human life will be at the felt.
Several years ago, after appearances in fancy dress, some observers might have presumed Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates was acting the clown in the Big Top. By winning both the 2021 and 2022 Poker Players Championship bracelets, Cates has proven that he’s far more of a ringmaster.
Third Time Lucky
“Sooner or later they couldn’t handle that extra spice.”
Cates has won the ‘PPC’ in back-to-back years. Could he possibly emulate Michael Mizrachi in winning it for a third time. Mizrachi, of course, won it in 2010, 2012 and 2018. Cates would be the only player in history to do repeat the trick in three consecutive years.
“I’m very confident with destiny having my back,” he says. “Besides, someone has to be the one to do it!”
It’s hard to argue with the indomitable Cates. Over the last few years, his ability to get over the line in crucial spots has seen many fans call him as the true purveyor of magic. One aspect of the ‘Jungleman’ persona that fans love is his wearing of colorful outfits and he dismisses any notion of them hindering him.
“Most decisions are automatic, and it’s more important to stay focused on reads or adjustments.”
In the 2022 final, Cates frequently needed to fight back from a chip deficit in order to survive. He admits that his opponents 10 months ago were tough to overcome. But who was the toughest?
“Yuri Dzivielevski of course and Ryan Leng, who folded top pair to me obviously. But sooner or later they couldn’t handle that extra spice I brought to the table, in the form of crème or power boost. Taking this game to the next level!”
Planning the ‘Three-peat’
Cates heads back into the ring this year looking to achieve the near impossible – three consecutive victories in perhaps the toughest event of all at the World Series of Poker. He’ll also be taking on some other events.
“I will be defending my PPC title again and going for a three-peat!” he declares. “I will play a few other WSOP tournies and some cash, maybe hangout in L.A. a bit as well.”
Vegas seems like the perfect sort of playground for a player like Cates – someone who knows the circus well and is at home in unpredictable situations.
“[I love] the convenience of Las Vegas, the 24-hour gyms, and crazy people, but there’s nothing to eat that is healthy! I have to improvise.”
Tridents and Falcons
“His reign of soft poker tyranny ends with me clipping his wings.”
Over the years, Cates has played in some of the biggest high roller series, so how does the recent Triton Poker Series trip to Vietnam compare?
“The Triton series is one of the best run high stakes series,” he says. “[It has] incredible service and tournaments. I also enjoy traveling to the different locations.”
Cates is famously now a Run It Once player after once of the best introduction videos of all time. He’s already enjoying his duel with Phil Galfond, the owner of the site and a Pot Limit Omaha legend. From the outside looking in, Cates’ motivations seems to be through the roof to take on his friend at the felt.
“My match with Phil Galfond a.k.a. ‘Mr Falcons’ is about justice and honor.” Cates says. “It’s not about the money anymore. His reign of soft poker tyranny ends with me clipping his wings!”
Cates is no stranger to having to prepare for the most unique of poker matches, and the way he does so is often hailed as unique. His physical regimen is well documented, but how does he study the game of poker?
“It depends on the game and if others are improving,” he admits. “For tournaments and tough cash games, a high quality is needed, but for TV games and streams only gigantic balls of steel and honing my trash talk is required.”
Part of the Winning Team
“I have goals far beyond just poker.”
Poker is often a solo game, but while many have smoothed that edge by having teams of players around them to bounce off, the perception is often that Cates is a lone wolf on and off the felt. That’s a misconception according to Jungleman himself.
“I’ve worked with others quite a bit, just fairly under the radar.” He says. “I do think there should be more team variants of poker. [I find it] Easy to switch off. I often hang around non-poker players these days. I’m finding quite a lot in common with artists and entrepreneurs.”
Over recent months, Cates has hosted a podcast – a smash hit in the ratings. Called Winning the Game of Life, Cates has hosted more than 50 guests on his YouTube channel . To him, it has replaced blogging as a form of expression.
“I mostly enjoy it, and it’s also an exercise to get better at a variety of things like working with a team, being a good interview, networking and meeting new people. To date, I’ve had more than 50 guests, with a new episode airing each Saturday at 10am PDT.
Last week, Cates’ guest was Poker Hall of Famer and legendary poker producer Mori Eskandani and this Saturday he’ll discuss all things victory with Maria Konnikova. The podcast, also available on Apple, has gone from strength to strength and already attracts mainstream crossover listeners along with poker fans.
Winning in poker has afforded Cates plenty of luxuries in life, but of them all, he values one above the others. That one element means that his ambition reaches past the poker felt.
“Freedom. Nothing better than to be able to set your own schedule.” He says. “I have goals far beyond just poker.”
Cates took home the trophy for the best final table performance at the 4th Annual Global Poker Awards. Amid a year of stellar showings at final table by a cast of heroes, he was hugely gratified to take that particular accolade.
“[I was] quite proud, and as I’ve said before it’s important to find some kind of way for recreational players to be attracted to poker that aren’t interested in chess-like theory. If I myself am bored out of my mind at the table it’s not a good sign.”
The chances of that happening when the World Series of Poker kicks off in late May in Vegas are zero.
When the Jungle comes to Vegas, you better grab a strong vine and hang on for dear life. Cates has made doing so an art form, and no-one would back against him making it three in a row when the heat is on.