Breaking Down the Action:
  • Welcome Back, Kaplan
  • The Back Nine
  • Bringing Action to Life

6 Minute Read

Gabe Kaplan has retired from commentating duties on High Stakes Poker... but who will replace him?

The poker commentator and former TV Sitcom legend Gabe Kaplan has announced that the current 10th season of the iconic cash game show High Stakes Poker on PokerGO will be his last – after the very first episode. After a decade of bringing the cash game drama to life, the man with a glimmer in his eye and an unmistakable smile behind his words will be sorely missed; no-one could replicate Kaplan’s inimitable style.

Welcome Back, Kaplan

Taking his seat behind the microphone first in the debut season of High Stakes Poker, Kaplan – now 77 years old – brought a dry sense of humor to the wettest of boards from the very first deal. Blessed with the quickest of wits, no doubt honed by years spent not only performing in but writing comedy, Kaplan was born to be a poker commentator.

Television, Kaplan’s first foray into comedy, provided the platform but kept him rooted in character as the returning teacher Kotter, in the eponymous Welcome Back, Kotter, which ran for four seasons between 1975 and 1979. It was a popular series, in which Kaplan played the teacher who returns to his former school only to find that he is teaching a bunch of “Sweathogs” who are more diverse and challenging than he could ever have expected. For millions, it was unmissable entertainment and launched the career of John Travolta in his first on-screen appearance.

Kaplan not only starred in the series, but created it, so his hand in High Stakes Poker is huge. Kaplan’s only missing season during the 10 that have aired to date was Season 7, where he was replaced as the commentator by the popular Saturday Night Live comedian and popular poker player himself, the late Norm MacDonald.

The Back Nine

In some ways, Kaplan’s return to the mic in Season 8 was one that defined the series as it played out thereafter. It knew what it was, and while Kaplan’s return was as challenging as Kotter’s in the TV series he co-created, changes to the game such as GTO and the rise of online players in tandem with old-school live superstars was one that Kaplan handled with flair and elan.

When Cary Katz’s PokerGO bought the coverage of High Stakes Poker and released all the archive footage, one by one, each season was greeted with much cheer from the poker-watching community. We even commented ourselves on how irreplaceable Kaplan – and co-host AJ Benza – were when Season 10 was renewed last year. In a world where stars such as Isaac Haxton win back-to-back major titles in a week, Kaplan’s ability to both break down top-level poker play and subvert the form to find the humor was priceless.

Playing out the most recent seasons of High Stakes Poker, there is no doubt that Kaplan’s role has become even more necessary and vitally important to the entertainment to be found in the show. New poker stars are naturally less adjusted to playing at the live felt as many of them became millionaires online. Plenty of Season 9 and Season 10’s stars are those from the outside world of business ownership, such as Stanley Tang. Others, such as Eric Persson are known much more for their cash game prowess than their tournament play.

Bringing Action to Life

“I had a blast doing High Stakes Poker, but the time has come for me to hang it up and empty my locker.” ~ Gabe Kaplan

It is impossible to judge how vital to High Stakes Poker Kaplan has been from this viewpoint. We stand in the blast radius of this seismic shock to televised poker’s established cast. We don’t want to lose one of the stars, but we’d like the show to go on. Finding a replacement will be the devil’s own job for anyone at PokerGO brave enough to grasp the nettle.

We’ve already been told that we won’t have to wait long for the announcement, however. Whoever is to replace Kaplan is due to be revealed in Episode 2 of the 10th season of HSP, with that being the first show to take place without Kaplan in many years. While ‘Gabe’ saw his final episode in the commentary booth air on PokerGO on Tuesday, the final show featuring him will be “re-broadcast on the PokerGO YouTube channel” this coming Friday, with that episode going out free from 9am Pacific Time.

“I had a blast doing High Stakes Poker, but the time has come for me to hang it up and empty my locker,” said Kaplan. “I want to thank A.J, Mori and all the staff, players dealers and viewers. We had sixteen years of good times and now memories.”

“Working with Gabe Kaplan was a highlight of my career,” said A.J. Benza, his High Stakes Poker co-host. “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.”

Legendary PokerGO Producer Mori Eskandani himself could not be more complimentary about the immense contribution Kaplan has made the canon of televised poker.

“Gabe’s impact on the poker world is nothing short of legendary,” he 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.”

We’d echo those thoughts and words. High Stakes Poker may remain, but we’ll always be hoping that one day soon, Kaplan is told “Welcome Back.” The show must go on, but it won’t be the same without him behind the mic.

Joseph Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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