Six years ago, Ben Lamb decided to take a year off from classes at Trinity University in San Antonio and try his hand on the professional poker circuit.
He hasn't been in a classroom since.
Lamb's performance at this year's World Series of Poker may keep him away from school for good.
Lamb, 26, a native of Tulsa, Okla., is the chip leader going into to day's third round of the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em World Championship at the Rio. With 1,875 players remaining from the 6,865-participant starting field, Lamb, with 551,600 in tournament chips, is one of just two players to have cracked the half-million chip figure.
But that's not the whole story.
Lamb is enjoying one of the best runs ever experienced at the World Series of Poker. He won the first gold bracelet of his career in the $10,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha Championship on June 24, earning $814,436. He also has second-, eighth- and 12th-place finishes at this year's tournament and has won more than $1.3 million.
Lamb is ranked second in the World Series of Poker Player of the Year standings that will include results from this year's World Series of Poker Europe, which will be played in France this fall.
"I really haven't done anything this past year but play poker," said Lamb, who divides his time between Tulsa and a Las Vegas condominium. "I really feel like I've been more focused on the game. My friends will go out to the clubs, but I'd much rather play poker."
His other impressive finish this year was in reaching the final table and placing eighth in the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship, where eight variations of poker are rotated over five days with only hold'em played at the final table. It's the game that players consider a true measure of skill.
"Probably high-limit Omaha is my best game, but I like to play all the games," Lamb said.
Before this year, Lamb's best finish at the World Series of Poker was fifth place in a Pot Limit Omaha High-Low Split event.
His best World Series of Poker payday, however, was $633,022 in 2009 when he placed 14th in the Main Event, five seats away from landing a spot at the coveted final table of nine.
Lamb is best known in the poker community as a cash game player at Aria or Bellagio. Before the April 15 federal crackdown on Internet gaming companies, Lamb also played online poker.
The only place he doesn't play is when he goes home to Tulsa to visit family and friends.
"The cash games there are a little small," Lamb said.
Tournament poker, in which events can run long hours, can be a different style than cash games.
Sometime in the early morning hours of July 20, the Main Event's nine-player final table will be determined. Participants will return to the Rio in November to play for the top prize of $8.7 million. Eight of the nine final players will win more than $1 million.
When Lamb takes his seat at the poker table Thursday, he'll be ready for 10-hour-plus days of competition.
"I've been in cash games that have gone 20 hours straight," Lamb said. "It's hard to leave a table when you have a chance to make $1,000 or $1,500 an hour."
Having come close to making the 2009 final table, Lamb knows what to expect.
On Wednesday's scheduled day off for all players, he decided to stay away from poker altogether.
He can't conceive a strategy or plan of action because things can change every few hands. He also wants to take time to evaluate the players at his table.
"Maybe I am in a zone this year," Lamb said.
"I'm making great reads and everything seems to work," he also said.
Since July 7 , the Main Event field has been whittled down as widely known names and poker legends were eliminated. Defending 2010 champion Jonathan Duhamel of Canada was knocked out of the competition Monday.
Going into the third round, seven former Main Event champions remain in the competition; Tom McEvoy (1983), Joe Cada (2009), Phil Hellmuth Jr. (1989), Berry Johnston (1986), Huck Seed (1996), Carlos Mortensen (2001) and Robert Varkony (2002).
The top nonpoker celebrities still playing include actors Jason Alexander (167,000 in chips) and Brad Garrett (46,000 in chips).
Four former World Series of Poker Players of the Year are still in the hunt for a seat at the final table, including Daniel Negreanu (2004), Allen Cunningham (2005), Erick Lindgren (2008) and Jeffrey Lisandro (2009).
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.