Dan Cates is one of the world’s best poker players. He’s won over $11 million in online poker cash game profits and many more millions in live games.

Taking Cates’ success into account, it seems like he was just a poker natural who quickly moved up the stakes with no problem.

The truth, though, is that he had a bumpy road to mastering poker that included working at McDonald’s to cover his heavy losses. It was only through persistence and dedication that he overcame his losses and eventually became an elite player.

Keep reading to find out more about Cates’ rise to the top, including early years spent working at McDonald’s to battling the world’s top players for millions.

Dan Cates Early Life

Dan Cates was born in Bowie, Maryland’s on November 14, 1989. He spent his early life “mostly alone” and describes himself as “weird, a bit aloof.”

Cates’ love of gaming is a big reason why he spent so much time alone. He dedicated a large portion of his preteen and early teenage years to Command and Conquer. Cates’ played this strategic game so much that he claims to have been one of the world’s top Command and Conquer players.

Despite playing video games so much and barely studying, he managed to get As in all of his classes. But while Cates got good grades, his parents weren’t happy about all of the time he put towards gaming.

“My parents thought I was going to be a recluse when I grew up,” he said in an interview with iGaming. “They tried to make me stop playing video games and limit them.”

But while his gaming habits didn’t make his parents happy, Cates was at least learning skills for his future profession.

“My methods for getting better [at Command and Conquer] also weren’t perfect, but I did learn, partly, from that game how to get better at poker.”

Cates had a vague goal of landing a job involving computer science or another technical field. However, he eventually discovered poker in high school and concentrated far more time on playing this.

He and friends would play poker during lunch, using ripped pieces of paper as chips. Cates eventually began dominating the games and sought bigger challenges. He started competing against more-experienced grinders in a local home game. He also began reading poker strategy resources and studied the game more often than his schoolbooks.

The Bankroll Busting and McDonald’s Years

During high school, Cates did paid internships and saved $6,000. He used this money as his bankroll for area home games. Unfortunately, he learned a valuable lesson about choosing tablemates after being cheated. Cates estimates that he was cheated out of around $3,000 playing in a game with shady gamblers.

He thought these players were his friends, when most of them were actually scamming him with stacked decks. Future high stakes player Scott ‘urnotindanger” Palmer, who played in the same game, was one of the few real friends who wasn’t involved in the cheating.

Some players might have given up poker after being ripped off so badly. But Cates took his game online at age 17 to improve. He started by grinding in $0.25/$0.50 no-limit Texas hold’em and low-stakes sit&go’s. He often deposited between $50 and $70, only to bust his bankroll again and again.

Cates eventually lost all of the money from his internships and took a job at McDonald’s to support his poker ambitions. He worked the drive-thru in the early evening and used his wages to play poker at night.

It wasn’t until Cates began thinking differently from other players that he finally figured out how to reverse his fortunes.

Cates Changes Everything with Reverse Game Selection

Cates readily admits that he wasn’t a poker prodigy who started out with a $50 deposit and immediately took off. Instead, he spent hours studying the game and playing.

“I watched videos, read some books, but mostly watched videos,” he said. “I played a variety of opponents and took notes on all the different details. I played probably three or four hours a day on average.”

Eventually, Cates discovered what he’d been missing the entire time: tougher competition that could make him a better player.If you’re familiar with poker game selection, players vet tables to find the weakest competition. Playing against inferior opponents gives one a stronger chance to win money.

Game selection is especially important in online poker, where you can use stats and data to find weaker players. Cates, on the other hand, started using a strategy called reverse game selection. This technique involves looking for better grinders at your stakes in order to compete against the best.

While Cates was in the midst of improving, he also enrolled at the University of Maryland to study economics. But just like in high school, he spent a large amount of his time playing online poker.

He straddled the line between being a college student and successful poker player for three years. But he failed a class towards the end of his junior year and would’ve had to return for another two semesters in order to graduate. At the same time, he was also making a ridiculous amount of money in online poker and found it hard to think about taking a normal job after college.

His grades were so bad that his parents stopped paying for Cates’ tuition. Of course, it wasn’t hard for him to take over the payments when considering that he’d made a fortune through internet poker.

“They were paying it at first, but they didn’t want to anymore when my grades sucked so much,” he recalled. “I ended up paying for my own tuition and at that point they also said I should cash out some of the money I won. This was at a point where I was making real money, like six figures, and college became more of a burden to me.”

Eventually, Cates felt like he was wasting his time at the University of Maryland and dropped out with only a year left to go.

Jungleman Takes on Viktor Blom

Cates’ reverse game selection and dedication to improvement helped him quickly climb the NL hold’em cash game stakes. He went from playing at $0.25/$0.50 tables to competing against top grinders in $100/$200 and $200/$400 games.

By late 2009, Cates, who wasn’t even old enough to drink in a bar yet, was one of the top players on Full Tilt Poker. His “Jungleman12” screen name, which came from somebody saying that he looked like Tarzan, was slowly gaining more fame.

Unfortunately, he was about to run into a buzzsaw named “Isildur1.” Isildur1 came onto the Full Tilt high stakes scene around the same time as Cates and was absolutely decimating top pros. The Swede, who was anonymous at the time, used a hyper-aggressive strategy that befuddled the site’s best players.

Cates faced Blom in November 2009 and took a severe beating. He lost $500,000 in quick fashion to a player who later revealed his identity as Viktor Blom. Jungleman lost half of his bankroll in this matchup and admitted that Isildur1 was a very talented and difficult opponent.

Despite yet another setback, Cates rebuilt his bankroll in short order. With a replenished bankroll, he was prepared for what would be a very fruitful year.

Cates Becomes Top Online Poker Player in 2010

It wasn’t long before Jungleman was back at Full Tilt’s high stakes and competing against the best players again. Following his heavy losses against Blom, Cates couldn’t stop winning throughout 2010. He had a small blip where he was down $20,000 in January. But he changed things around a big way and began winning millions of dollars.

By the end of 2010, he earned $3.9 million in NL hold’em and another $1.1 million in pot-limit Omaha. All combined, he’s collected $5 million in online cash profits and was the year’s biggest winner.

The next-closest players in terms of winnings included Andreas ‘skjervoy’ Torbergsen ($3.7m), Tom Dwan ($3.6m), and Phil Ivey ($3m). While all of these pros had strong years too, they were all at least $1.3 million or more off Cates’ pace. Jungleman’s incredible year established him as arguably the world’s top NL Texas hold’em player at the time.

Jungleman Agrees to Durrrr Challenge

Fueled by his success and confidence, Tom Dwan began challenging other top online pros to the “Durrrr Challenge.”

Each challenge was set to run for 50,000 hands, and Durrrr would win an additional $500,000 if he was up at the end of the hand limit. He gave his opponents 3:1 odds, meaning they had a chance to win an extra $1.5 million.

The matches took place on $200/$400 NL hold’em tables at Full Tilt Poker. Cates was one of the few players whom Dwan challenged. He fared quite well against Dwan, winning over $1 million after several months of play. Unfortunately, the challenge stalled out at 19,355 hands and has yet to finish.

The holdup has been Dwan, who became busy playing live cash games in Macau and dealing with other things in his life. But Cates has continually pushed for the challenge to continue, considering that he stands to win $1.5 million if he retains his lead.

Although he hasn’t been in any hurry to complete the challenge, Dwan has been good about working with Cates on the matter. He’s agreed to pay penalties to his opponent every time that he puts off playing more scheduled hands. The penalties have been quite costly for Dwan, because he’s paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jungleman.

“He [Dwan] wants me to point out that actually he has given me, essentially, like $700K to $800k basically in penalties since 2010,” said Cates. Full Tilt removed their high stakes tables in 2015, meaning they no longer offer $200/$400 NL Texas hold’em. Therefore, the Durrrr Challenge would have to be finished on another site.

Black Friday Hits Cates and Other Poker Pros Hard

Cates had a golden period from the end of 2009 to early 2011. He won $7 million in online poker profits during this timeframe.

Unfortunately for Cates, he, like many internet poker pros, were blindsided on April 15, 2011 (Black Friday). This is when the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York served indictments to leading online poker sites.

Full Tilt and other online poker rooms were forced to exit the US market. Subsequently, they all had difficulties processing player withdrawals and eventually shut down. This was bad news for Jungleman, because he had millions of dollars left on Full Tilt. He would later say that 80% of his bankroll was tied up on the once-mighty poker site.

Additionally, all of the major poker rooms were forced to vacate the American market. This left Cates trying to find a new place to live so that he could continue his internet poker career at the best sites. He initially targeted Canada, but couldn’t move there after an issue with his travel visa. Luckily, he was able to find a temporary home in London and continue playing at the biggest euro internet poker rooms.

Despite being in a new location and playing on different sites, Cates immediately experienced success. He loved that more players were willing to give him action, and he turn this into a $1.4 million profit within a year. Nevertheless, he grew weary of waiting for his massive bankroll on Full Tilt.

“I believe that any organization which receives player deposits should obviously have all of that money secure so it’s extremely poor management to not have that protocol in place as it is common sense,” he said at the time.
“I am still hoping that the Black Friday issues get resolved and am hoping to get my money back from Full Tilt.”

The good news for Cates and other players is that the US Department of Justice, via the Garden City Group, repaid player deposits from 2014-16.

Cates Has Continued to be Successful in Poker

Dan “Jungleman” Cates has dealt with a number of tough breaks in his career that could’ve derailed him. Beyond the Black Friday issue and slow start he experienced, Cates also had other setbacks. This includes once losing $5 million in a Manila cash game (some of the money belonged to backers) and having multiple poker pros stiff him on loans and prop bets. But through it all, he’s continued to persevere and remains one of the world’s best poker players.

Cates continued his winning ways after black Friday. He increased his career Full Tilt online profits from $7.2 million to $10.2m between 2013 and 2015. He also started playing at PokerStars in 2012 under the name “w00ki3z.” From then until now, he’s won another $900,000 in profits through PokerStars’ high stakes games.

He’s also a prolific live cash player who’s won plenty of money from Las Vegas to Macau. The latter features some of the world’s most-lucrative cash games, given that a number of Asian businessmen compete in them.

What’s Cates Up to These Days?

Cates has continued living abroad after initially moving out of the US following Black Friday. He’s spent time in Romania, Manila, and Macau while he continues playing online and in big live cash games. For the first time in his life, Jungleman has also been competing in poker tournaments on a consistent basis. He’s experienced a lot of success in high roller events.

Cates had his first tournament windfall at the 2014 EPT Monte Carlo Grand Final, finishing second and earning €1,283,700 ($1,774,145). He’s since tallied the following big tourney finishes:

  • 1st in 2016 Triton Poker Super High Roller Series HK$200k buy-in event – HK$2,785,900 ($359,229)
  • 3rd in 2017 Triton Poker Super High Roller Series HK$1 million buy-in event – HK$7,765,156 ($1,000,365)
  • 10th in 2018 Super High Roller Bowl China $HK2.1 million buy-in event – HK$5,820,000 ($742,012)
  • 2nd in 2018 Super High Roller Bowl China $250k Short Deck Ante Only – HK$3,199,000 ($407,515)

When he’s not playing in poker tournaments or ring games, Cates lives a relatively frugal lifestyle.

“In general I’m not the kind of guy who will throw money around,” he explained. “I do spend it on whatever I want at that point, and certain luxuries, but I’m definitely not a big spender.”

About the only thing that Cates does splurge on is eating out. “One of the luxuries I do spend lots of money on, actually, is eating out at places. I don’t go too crazy, though.”


Many people commonly believe that one needs incredible natural ability and intuition to become a top poker pro. But Cates proves that there’s more involved than just being born with poker talent. He’s spent countless hours studying the game and playing hands to improve. Cates learned the hard wayby continually busting his bankroll and trying to unlock the secret to winning.

His first major success came when he started using reverse game selection and looking for tougher opponents. Competing against stronger players and studying strategy resources helped Cates burst past the $0.25/$0.50 limits that had previously confounded him.

He’s had other challenges along the way, including losing $500k to Viktor Blom, relocating after Black Friday, and losing $5 million in Manilla. But these have all just been temporary setbacks to a player who’s now one of the world’s most-respected NL hold’em grinders.

Like many pros who’ve been successful for a number of years, Cates doesn’t play as much as he used to. Nevertheless, he can still compete with the world’s best whenever he does sit down to the online or live felt.

Not bad for a guy who once worked a low-paying job at McDonald’s to cobble together a bankroll.

Related Articles
Leave Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *