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Local Michigan Man Joins Poker Pros at WSOP

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In a matter of weeks, Claude Mason could come home millions of dollars richer -- or with nothing but memories.

His fate could rest in the turn of a card or by catching the nervous tic of a fellow player.

Mason, 35, of Taylor is one of hundreds of poker mavens expected to draw their first hand during the No-limit Texas Hold'em World Championship from July 28-Aug. 11 during the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

Texas Hold'em competitors start out with $10,000 worth of chips and continue until they lose them -- or win the title. The players will vie for part of the nearly $80-million prize.

Mason earned his spot at the table by entering a series of online poker games offered by SunPoker.com. In February, he took home his prize after playing the final match in person at the Palace of Auburn Hills -- a trip to Las Vegas and $10,000 for a seat at the World Series' main event.

Mason said he has been playing poker for 17 years, learning from playing with family and friends. The thrill of winning has kept him going, he said.

Mason, a sales representative for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and the father of 9-year-old Lindsey and twins Sean and Michael, 6, said he decided to play online after he heard a radio ad announcing a place at the main event table was at stake.

Mason said the greatest poker players from around the globe go to the World Series. But there is a big difference between an average competitor and a champion, he said. Top contenders sense their opponents' eagerness and know when to fold.

"Most people have a tendency to do something with a bad or good hand. You try to pick up signs," Mason said. "They will lean over the table or rise up in their seat or stare before they make a bet. It's an unconscious thing."

The exact amount of the grand prize depends on the number of players who sit at the table, said Gary Thompson, spokesman for the World Series of Poker. The winners become celebrities, he said.

"People line up and ask for autographs and photos," he said. "They are very much like rock stars."

Mason said he would be thrilled to bring home the tournament's multimillion-dollar prize, but he said he doesn't know how he would spend the money.

"I haven't started scratching a check for a Ferrari, yet," he said.

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