Don't Make Me Mad
June 28, 2011
About ten seconds after I asked the question was when I realized that Daniel Cates was nobody's fool. The question, of course, was one that I shouldn't have asked in the first place. It wasn't polite and it wasn't funny and it wasn't even my business one little bit. And Daniel Cates didn't get mad and he didn't get rude and he definitely didn't get defensive. He just stared at me for ten seconds, unblinking eyes, mild mannered as could be, and then he said, "What about it?" And that was pretty much it. What about it, indeed.
He was playing twelve and twenty-four dollar limit mix in the Aria poker room when I walked in. He was straight backed behind tall stacks of three dollar chips, dead focused with an unblinking stare and thick lensed unrimmed glasses. About ten paces away, behind the glass door leading into Ivey's room, they were playing four and eight hundred mix, obviously a level much more suited to a guy like Daniel Cates. Not two days ago Cates was playing the nosebleed game over at the Rio for twenty-four hours straight, where I had caught a glimpse of him sat behind towers of one thousand and five thousand chips and bigger, perched behind his stack with a two day beard and his unrimmed glasses, dead focused with the unblinking eyes. Here in the Aria poker room, he was sitting with tall stacks of three dollar chips. Other than that he was pretty much the same.
A few months ago Daniel Cates, the internet poker player known as Jungleman, was sitting on top of the world. At the tender age of twenty-one, he'd already won figures online that some place at five million dollars, and others say ten. At the specialized discipline known as heads up No Limit Hold'em, Jungleman was simply no longer able to get a game. He took on the legend Durrrr in a fifty thousand hand challenge, a highly anticipated clash of the titans that went Jungleman's way so decisively in the first ten thousand hands that it ground to a halt. Durrrr may not have run up the white flag, but he has showed himself to be quite proficient at hide and seek.
Then came Black Friday, the day that every single one of Jungleman's online millions became a flickering number on a screen. And right now, as a snapshot in time, all you can say about Daniel Cates is that he has the all-time record on a Space Invaders arcade game that has just been unplugged from the wall. And like the day you walked into a video arcade in 1987 and found that some goofball had turned off the power overnight and your last six Saturdays had been wasted time and you would have been better off buying cheeseburgers next door from the Burger King and scarfing them down until your tummy hurt rather than spend your weekly allowance of five dollars trying to get the high score on Dig Dug in the hope that a skanky mall girl in a Judas Priest t-shirt with curls a full foot out of her head and smoking a cigarette out the back door would look at you and smile as you typed your initials into the machine. Because that's all Daniel Cates has got. And Black Friday is when some unknowing janitor named the DOJ pulled the plug from the wall and dashed a whole bunch of twenty-one year old dreams.
There was a recent New York Times piece written about Jungleman, before Black Friday, where the interviewer went to great pains to infer that Cates was completely out of touch with real people and the real world. While it's true that Daniel does have that weird genius way of answering questions much like Isaac Haxton, where they are liable to take as long a pause as they deem necessary and then answer in a way where they are actually interviewing you and if you haven't thought your question through in the first place you just end up mumbling around and staring at a place three feet to the left of their head. Because Daniel Cates is piercing you with unblinking eyes from behind his thick unrimmed spectacles and raising the bet. And if that makes you uncomfortable so that you want to claim he's out of touch with real people and the real world, then fine. But what the New York Times journalist surely left out is the thing that should immediately strike anyone most about Daniel Cates, especially in an arena where huge egos are part and parcel for the course and arrogance is assumed like eyes and ears. The plain fact about Daniel Cates is that he's unfailingly polite. He's earnestly polite. He's polite in a way so that he must actually believe that the world doesn't revolve around him, and if I say that makes him the only one in Las Vegas right now then it's not nearly as much of an exaggeration as the other way around. That, right there, is more than something.
A comment was made by Doyle Brunson, the old godfather of poker, a Twitter comment made in the aftermath of Black Friday. Jungleman was quick to respond. And there was a good deal of sentiment in the online forums where things like this are hotly debated that perhaps Jungleman wasn't displaying the proper respect for his elders. Daniel Cates is looking at me and searching for words to explain. It's about what Doyle said to him. "What's the phrase?" he asks. "What do you call it?" The phrase is kicking someone when they're down. That's what Doyle was trying to do.
So Daniel Cates has come here to Las Vegas, twenty-one years old and yanked by the collar and stamped on a little bit by some schoolyard bullies who want to watch him bleed. And the reason he's playing twelve and twenty-four dollar mix at the Aria is not because he can't play higher. As I said, he was powerful and terrifying not two days before at the Rio when there were millions on the table and Cates was fearless and focused. No, the reason he's playing twelve and twenty-four dollar mix is because while the game at the Rio was Pot limit Omaha and No Limit Hold'em, his two best games, the mixed games at the Aria are variations he's still relatively unfamiliar with. And he knows it's far smarter to practice them at a lower limit until he's ready to play higher. The reason Daniel Cates is sitting there and playing the twelve and twenty-four dollar limit game at the Aria is because it's smart. It might be the strongest play I've seen this year in Vegas.
This town, Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker. You get so used to seeing mental frailty in its various stages all around this town and all around everywhere since Black Friday and before, that you sometimes forget how mentally strong someone can be. I forgot what it was like to look at a guy and know, that right now nobody is beating this guy, no way no how. Right now Daniel Cates might be the single guy in the world who's been flattened more than any other person since Black Friday began. If he's the guy who won the most online than he's probably the guy who had the most online, and he's sitting there and playing twelve and twenty-four dollar limit because he wants to learn the game, and then of an evening he'll be sitting and playing No Limit Hold'em and Pot Limit Omaha for telephone figure sums. Daniel Cates has every reason to be blaming others, spinning out, letting the wheels fall off, and moaning bad beat stories to twenty dollar dancers while they grind his nuts. But take one look at him and realize that right now, no one has any chance in the world of beating him. The play is too strong.
As mild mannered as Daniel Cates is when you meet him, as many hands as he earnestly shakes and despite the myopic looks he gives through the thick lenses of his glasses, Jungleman just might be the perfect name for him after all. Because it's the Rambo story, isn't it. Unplugging his machine was one thing. It happens. But laughing at him wasn't cool. It's disrespectful. And believe me. They shouldn't have made him mad.
Exclusive Interview with Daniel Cates https://thepokerfarm.com/online-poker-videos/daniel-cates-jungleman12-exclusive-interview/
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