73-year-old Gabe Kaplan has had quite the storied life. From baseball to comedy and acting to financial investing to playing poker to commentating, is there anything this man can’t do?
The early years
As a child in Brooklyn, NY, Gabe Kaplan aspired to be a professional baseball player. He was even invited to the San Francisco Giants’ spring training camp. However, after two years and not having made a minor league roster, he moved on to bigger and better things.
While working at a Lakewood, New Jersey, hotel as a bellboy, Kaplan became interested in the standup comedy acts performing there and decided to give that a try. His material relied quite heavily on his Brooklyn upbringing, and, before long, he was on the road performing in coffee houses, bars, and clubs—including the Playboy Club circuit—across the country.
Gabe Kaplan’s big break occurred when he was invited to perform on The Tonight Show—his first of five such appearances—which acted as a springboard to the hugely successful 1970s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter where he starred as high-school teacher Gabe Kotter. It was also during this time that Kaplan released his first off-color comedy album Holes and Mello-rolls.
ABC aired Kotter between 1975 and 1979. Gabe Kaplan also appeared in Police Story, Lewis & Clark, and Murder, She Wrote, as well as several made-for-television movies.
Always the overachiever, Kaplan was not content to stay on television. Soon thereafter, he starred in three films: Fast Break (1979), Tulips (1981), and Nobody’s Perfekt (1981). He also toured with the Broadway theater company Doubles.
While acting and playing poker, Kaplan became a successful financial investor. He succeeded in developing a host of unique investment and stock strategies that led him to be featured in a number of financial publications. He focused on private placements—quite a risky enterprise during the wild speculation of the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, Gabe Kaplan’s net worth increased dramatically. And, of course, in true Gabe Kaplan fashion, he took his experiences and turned them into comedy material
Gabe Kaplan on the felt
Kaplan first appeared at the WSOP in 1978 when he decided to enter the $10,000 Main Event on a very expensive whim. Sadly, he only lasted a few hours. However, this experience made him that much more determined to hone his poker skills. Kaplan suffered a similar fate in the 1979 Main Event, further fueling his desire to improve. He played in high-stakes side cash games with $10,000/$20,000 limits and did quite well.
By 1980, Gabe Kaplan was considered among poker’s elite players when he won the Main Event at Amarillo Slim’s 2nd Annual Poker Classic—later renamed the Super Bowl of Poker—and pocketed a respectable $190,000 prize. He made the final table in this series two more times over the next five years and solidified himself in the poker world.
During this time, Kaplan’s confidence had skyrocketed and he challenged the 1979 WSOP Main Event champion Hal Fowler and the 1978 champ Bobby Baldwin each to $200,000 heads-up freezeouts and won them both.
During the 1986 WSOP, Kaplan finished 6th in the $5,000 No-Limit Deuce to Seven Draw event, winning $10,650 and 21st in the $10,000 Main Event, pocketing another $10,000.
In June, 1987, Kaplan won the Knights of the Round Table $10,000 NLHE tournament in Atlantic City along for a respectable $108,000.
At the 1988 WSOP, Gabe Kaplan finished in the money twice, placing 3rd and winning $39,500 in the $5,000 Seven-Card Stud event, and finishing in 8th place for $3,850 in the $1,000 Seven-Card Razz event. The following year, Kaplan again finished in money at the WSOP $5,000 Seven-Card Stud event, this time earning himself $23,100.
Over the next few years, Kaplan excelled at the L.A. Poker Classic. In addition to winning the 1993 $2,500 NL Deuce to Seven event and $25,250, he also won the 1995 $1,000 Deuce to Seven Draw event and $34,925.
In 1996, Gabe Kaplan placed 3rd in the WSOP’s $5,000 NL Deuce to Seven Draw event and pocketed $48,750. However, his best WSOP finish was in 2005 at the $5,000 Limit Hold’Em even where he earned a hefty $222,515.
2000s and Poker After Dark (PAD)
Beginning in 2005, Kaplan’s emergence in Poker After Dark tournaments—as well as high-stakes cash games—ushered in a period of success and allowed viewers to witness his skills. Over the next three years, he won many PAD events. One of his most notable victories occurred during “Cowboys” week during February, 2008. Here, Kaplan beat the likes of Doyle Brunson, Chris Ferguson, Andy Bloch, and Hoyt Corkins. However, his epic victory in the “Commentators III” episode that aired during first week of the 2010 season marked the greatest comeback in PAD’s history. You can catch all of PAD’s action and fun on PokerGo.
Here’s an entertaining little clip from PAD in which Gabe Kaplan takes full advantage of his reputation and hands Tom Dwan a killer bluff.
Kaplan has also participated in the National Heads-Up Poker Championships as well as various Super High Roller events. His most recent tournament win came in June, 2014, at the $100,000 NLHE event in Las Vegas where his 8th place finish earned him his largest single cash—$258,390.
Today, Gabe Kaplan’s total live tournament winnings are nearly $2 million. His total cash winnings are, undoubtedly, as high if not higher.
Along with his long-time stint on High Stakes Poker, Kaplan was the television commentator for the 1997 and 2002 WSOP. Here’s a great clip of Kaplan interviewing the legendary Stu Ungar after Ungar won the 1997 Main Event.
In addition to High Stakes Poker, you can hear Kaplan’s distinctive voice and expertise on the National Heads-Up Poker Championship, various WSOP events, and Intercontinental Poker Championship. In 2011, Kaplan was replaced by Norm MacDonald as the host of High Stakes Poker.
You’ve got to admit, listening to Gabe Kaplan—and his distinctive Brooklyn accent—is definitely entertaining.
Today, Kaplan—who, interestingly, has never married—lives in Los Angeles, California. He still plays poker, dabbles in the finance world, and occasionally performs at comedy clubs.
Until next time.
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Natalie Faulk is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer/blogger and the author of several books. She is an avid low-stakes (for now) poker player and huge Vegas Golden Knights fan.