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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Gabe Kaplan

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

When poker became all the rage in the early part of the last decade, it seemed that every celebrity in Hollywood liked to say they were “poker players” too.  It’s not that there haven’t been a decent amount of actors and actresses that have shown they can actually play a bit, as shown here by many of their biographies being a part of the “Where Are They Now” series, but today’s actor- turned-poker-player has been playing poker before some of these other members of Hollywood calling themselves poker players were ever born.  Gabe Kaplan has played poker and been a part of the poker scene in one capacity or another for over 30 years.  In these 30 years he’s sat down with the best players in the world in the highest stakes games, and has also commentated with expertise while following those legends of the game.

Gabriel Kaplan was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945, and grew up a huge fan of baseball.  As a child he showed great talent as a baseball player, and began to entertain the thought of becoming a professional.  When he was just out of high school he caught the eye of a baseball scout who invited Kaplan to try out for the San Francisco Giants.  It was soon apparent to Kaplan that he wasn’t cut out to be a major league baseball player; he thought he was good, but the thought of toiling around with a minor league team for a number of years was unappealing to Kaplan.  Instead, Kaplan returned to the east coast in search of other work.

Kaplan found a job as a bell boy at a resort hotel.  At the time he had no idea that he would be able to parlay a job of taking someone’s bags to their car to a career in Hollywood.  The resort would bring in comedy acts, and when Kaplan could, he would watch the show.  Kaplan enjoyed the show, but after watching different shows he believed he could make people laugh like the comedians.  

Kaplan put together a show based on his childhood memories, and it was a success.  The success caught the attention of “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson who asked him to be on the show.  Carson, who knew comedy in his own right, had Kaplan on a total of five times between May 1973 and December 1974 making Kaplan one of the most sought after comedians because of the popularity of the “Tonight Show.”

Kaplan got his big Hollywood break when he helped write and develop the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” a show that ran from 1975 to 1979.  The show was one of the more popular shows on television during this time frame, and revolved around a former student of a high school returning years later as a teacher.  When that show wrapped-up Kaplan had some free time, and extra money, and found new ways to spend both.

Kaplan says he started playing poker on a “whim.”  In 1978 he decided that the first tournament he would ever play would be the 1978 Main Event at the World Series of Poker.  His $10,000 buy-in didn’t last long, but the love he found in the game during that brief appearance has stuck with him since.  For the next 10 years Kaplan still toured as a comedian and made television and movie appearances, but by most accounts he was now a professional poker player.

His win at the 1980 Amarillo Slim Super Bowl of Poker may have helped him with his decision to win at poker.  The win at the second most popular poker tournament at the time not only netted him $190,000, but instantly put his name on lists as one of the best poker players of the day.  Kaplan’s results after that win didn’t disappoint.  

In 1980 Kaplan made the final table of the WSOP Main Event.  In 1981 he finished 3rd in the Amarillo Slim Super Bowl of Poker, this time collecting $105,000.  From the start of his poker career until 1991, Kaplan made the money in a WSOP event seven times, with five of those being final tables.  Kaplan proved he was an all-around poker player.  The seven tournaments he cashed in were spread out over four different games.  On top of making great finishes at the most popular events of the day, he even earned a reputation of being a fierce competitor at the cash game tables.  

Kaplan stopped playing poker as much between 1991 and around the time of the poker boom, but when he did decide to play in a tournament, he still had good showings.  In 1993 and 1995 he won the Deuce to Seven event at the L.A. Poker Classic and in 1996 he finished 3rd in the same event at the WSOP.

When poker made its big comeback in the early part of last decade, Kaplan became more interested in the game again.  While he has played in a number of tournaments between then and now, he is now more known by this generation’s poker player as one of the voices of the game.  Kaplan was the television commentator in 2005 and 2006 for the first two years of NBC’s “National-Heads up Poker Championship.”   He has also been the lead commentator for the Game Show Network’s popular show “High Stakes Poker,” since it first hit the airwaves in 2006.  Additionally, Kaplan has provided the voice work for a number of other poker shows and tournaments, including the Intercontinental Poker Championship.

As mentioned, Kaplan still plays occasionally, and when he does, he plays well.  In 2004 he made the final table of the World Poker Tour’s Mirage Poker Showdown, finishing 3rd for $256,519.  In July of 2005 he made yet another WSOP final table, finishing 2nd for $222,515 in the $5,000 Limit Hold’em event.  Kaplan has also appeared on a number of “Poker After Dark” episodes, with great results.  In the six episodes he has appeared in, he has won three of them.  His most recent PAD victory came on the “Commentators” episode.  He was down to just a few chips, and then proceeded to beat the likes of Joe Sebok, Howard Lederer, and his co-host on “High Stakes Poker,” Kara Scott, in what amounted to the biggest comeback in the history of the show.

Recently, Kaplan has resumed his stand-up comedy act, touring the country when his poker commentary duties allow him the time.  Additionally, there is talk that he is looking to bring back the show “Welcome Back, Kotter,” in which a number of networks are interested.  Whatever it is Kaplan decides to do, it appears he’ll do it well.  Even if it’s on a whim.

*Read Billy Monroe’s Blog*

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