Gabe Kaplan was a celebrity who played poker before it was cool to do so. The actor, comedian, and star of ‘70s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter has been in the game for decades. At a time when poker was often still seen as seedy and unscrupulous, Kaplan wasn’t afraid to mix it up at the tables.
During the poker boom of the 2000s, the actor became even more visible in the game. That eventually led to manning the microphone as a commentator for the popular High Stakes Poker series. The show, now owned and streamed by PokerGO, was one of the first to take viewers inside the world of big-money cash games.
After a long run as a commentator, PokerGO announced Wednesday that Kaplan is retiring from the show. He thanked broadcasting partner AJ Benza and PokerGO President Mori Eskandani for his time in the commentary booth.
“I had a blast doing High Stakes Poker, but the time has come for me to hang it up and empty my locker,” Kaplan said in a news release. “I want to thank AJ, Mori and all the staff, players, dealers, and viewers. We had 16 years of good times and now memories.”
Calling the high stakes action
Originally aired on the Game Show Network, High Stakes Poker proved a hit with poker fans. Kaplan, 77, spent the last nine seasons calling the action on the felt. He was paired with AJ Benza for eight seasons and one with Kara Scott.
Viewers enjoyed Kaplan’s humor and knowledge of the game. In the early days, he offered an insider’s view of high stakes action not seen at that time.
“Gabe’s impact on the poker world is nothing short of legendary,” Eskandani said. “His genuine and unmatched enthusiasm for the game was evident from the first day of filming and never wavered in the more than 100 episodes that Gabe was a part of.
“He brought the world of high-stakes poker into millions of homes worldwide and did so by seamlessly intertwining his one-of-a-kind comedic wit and expansive knowledge of the game. Without Gabe, High Stakes Poker wouldn’t have reached the incredible heights it has achieved. Gabe will be greatly missed, and we wish him nothing but the best in retirement.”
On Thursday, Kaplan took to Twitter to thank poker players and fans who have expressed their appreciation for his work. He did so with some of his typical humor.
“I’m very touched by the love and kind thoughts on my HSP retirement,” he noted. “Thanks to A.J. and Mori for making the job easy and to the fans for the support over the years. By the way, how do I join LinkedIn?”
A life at the poker tables
Kaplan is more than just a poker commentator. In a career stretching back to the 1970s, Kaplan has almost $2 million in live tournament winnings.
On the World Poker Tour, Kaplan finished third in the 2004 Mirage Poker Showdown for $256,519. He also produced some winning sessions on shows like Poker After Dark.
Many viewers may miss his voice on High Stakes Poker, but can check out his work on the new season. Kaplan’s final episode as commentator was on the season 10 premiere on Jan. 24. That episode will be re-broadcast on the PokerGO YouTube channel on Friday.
Past seasons are also available on demand on the PokerGO platform. Kaplan’s broadcast partner expressed his sentiments at seeing the poker legend moving on.
“Working with Gabe Kaplan was a highlight of my career,” Benza said. “Playing the straight man to his unbelievable comedic timing was precious. Not to mention learning poker at his knee. We had a great run and that’s why you never bet against two guys from Brooklyn.”
Recognition from peers and players
The announcement of Kaplan’s retirement from the show brought plenty of comments and fond memories from players and fans. Commentator Jeff Platt knows first-hand how difficult it can be in making poker commentary seem seamless and insightful.
“Gabe Kaplan had a profound impact on High Stakes Poker,” he told USPoker. “His commentary was instrumental to the success of the show. Mixing humor with poker analysis is no easy feat, Kaplan made that process look and sound flawless. He and AJ serve as inspiration to every other poker commentary team out there.”
Kaplan’s replacement will be announced next week with the airing of the second episode of High Stakes Poker season 10. Daniel Negreanu has been a frequent player on the show and offered some accolades this week for Kaplan. He also speculated a bit on who that replacement might be.
Gabe is a legend!
Who would you like to see replace him? https://t.co/q1tf1z4S85
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) January 25, 2023
Phil Hellmuth made several appearances on High Stakes Poker and offered his own thoughts on Kaplan’s work. He spoke for many players and fans in bidding the poker commentator a farewell.
“The poker world loves Gabe Kaplan, He told USPoker. “Gabe has been playing high stakes poker since the 1980s, and quite successfully at that! Through poker many of us have met, and have grown to like Gabe. He is a nice guy, a good guy, fun to be with, with a both a high EQ and a high IQ. Many of my friends’ favorite poker show is High Stakes Poker, in great part because of Gabe’s witty commentary and his knowledge of the players and the game. We will miss you Gabe!”