Panic set in back in July for Jeremy Ausmus.
Immediately after qualifying for a seat at the final table of the World Series of Poker's Main Event, the professional player from Las Vegas realized he might have a conflict.
The due date of his second child coincided with the days set aside for determining the winner of the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em World Championship.
The conflict was averted, however, when Kai Ausmus arrived six weeks early, though the event brought about a new set of complications. Instead of gearing up for the final table of the Main Event and a potential multimillion-dollar payout, Ausmus took a turn as Mr. Mom.
With his wife, Adria, on bed rest and his premature son hospitalized, Ausmus, 33, needed to take care of his daughter, 2-year-old Calia.
That forced him to stay away from poker tables for five weeks, missing out on several tournaments and the World Series of Poker Europe.
"This was easily the longest stretch I've ever had away from poker," said Ausmus, a Coloradan who moved to Las Vegas in 2005 to set out on a professional poker career.
SHORT STACK LONG ON EXPERIENCE
The good news last week was that Kai came home, Adria is healed and Ausmus returned to the Las Vegas poker scene to prepare for tonight's final table of nine at the Rio's Penn & Teller Theater.
Of the Main Event finalists, Ausmus is the most experienced. He has cashed in 13 World Series of Poker events, including eight this year.
He is also seeking his first individual event championship bracelet and would love to slip the world champion's expensive jewelry on his wife's wrist Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
He also wouldn't mind the $8.5 million payday.
"Obviously, winning the Main Event is life-changing," said Ausmus, who has earned $114,623 at the World Series of Poker and more than $426,000 in live tournament earnings.
Ausmus has some catching up to do. He'll enter the Main Event in last place out of the nine players, with 9.805 million in chips.
However, the field is bunched tighter than in previous Main Events. One double-up could move Ausmus into fifth place.
"In the past, the short stack usually had around 10 big blinds left," Ausmus said. "I have about 33 big blinds right now, so I'm in a much better spot. Luck really plays into it. We've all been running well, so a lot could come down to luck."
Ninth place is assured a $754,798 paycheck, but Ausmus has his mind set on greater earnings.
A graduate of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Ausmus started playing poker while in college. He realized during his last year of school that he was making more money playing online and on weekend trips to Black Hawk than at his $10-an-hour job in a cabinet-making business.
He and his girlfriend - who became his wife in 2009 - came to Las Vegas after graduation. Ausmus was determined to make a career out of playing poker. He played online - up until the federal government's April 15, 2011, "Black Friday" crackdown - and in poker rooms around Las Vegas.
PICKING UP SPONSORSHIPS
Ausmus usually plays 30 to 35 hours a week. It's a job.
"I'm not a guy who plays two days straight, unless it's an unbelievable game," Ausmus said. "And I don't play any other games in the casino. Online allowed you the opportunity to play a lot of games and a lot of hands."
Ausmus also tailors his play to how he's doing at the table. Since poker is how he provides for his family, he won't take crazy risks.
Although he missed out on playing in Europe and elsewhere, the Main Event gave him additional earning opportunities. Ausmus picked up sponsorships from social media company ttagit.com and free-play website HogWildPoker.com.
"If I had gone to Europe, I would have missed the birth of my son, so I'm glad I stayed home," he said.
Sometimes, a layoff helps clear one's head and refocus energies.
Ausmus said getting back to the tables helped get his poker skills back in shape.
"I know I'm an underdog to win, but I also know that things can change quickly," he said.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal .com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.