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Newton native wins nearly $66K in recent poker tourney

Imagine winning nearly $66,000. What would you spend it on?

For 31-year-old Newton resident Joe Illingworth, who recently won $65,742 at the BLUFF Mid-States Poker Tour at Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells, the money first went toward necessities.

“After taxes I ended up pulling home about $42,000,” he said, noting that going into the tournament he had made only one payment on his new car — which he has since paid off entirely.

The rest, he said, will go toward the addition of a new deck and pool in the springtime that he and his wife can enjoy.

The Baxter teacher entered the Wisconsin casino tournament in mid-September to “get some experience” before the same poker tour hits the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama at the end of October. A total of 244 people entered, and Illingworth only invested $90 as his buy-in.

“I had a really good Day One accumulating chips. In fact, I was the chip leader after Day One and I felt I had a really good chance of taking the tournament down,” Illingworth said. “I started feeling really good about myself. I went to the hotel room and went to sleep and I told myself the next day was a different day and completely different things could happen. Then I went back and had a really good mind set, and the chips started accumulating. I was the chip leader until the final table, so I was never in any danger of not making that final table.”

The final table included the top 10 players of the tournament, only one of whom was eliminated in the first two hours of tough play. But through it all, Illingworth kept a level head.

“Not having that fear eases your mind and calms you down tremendously,” he said. “The only time I ever really got nervous was, I made a good call on somebody that pushed all in on me, and I ended up calling them for about three-quarters of my stack of chips and they ended up outdrawing me and beating me in that hand and crippling me. But I wasn’t too low on chips — first prize was the biggest money and that’s what I wanted, so I had to keep thinking that and not go on tilt.”

Nearly five hours after final table play began — and several exchanges in who was the chip leader — Illingworth managed to pull a win with pocket threes.

“He needed to hit a pair, and he didn’t get a pair at all so I ended up winning the tournament,” Illingworth said of his last opponent.

The entire final table portion of the tournament was aired online with a 15-minute delay, and according to, roughly 3,000 viewers were tuned in at the time Illingworth won.

“Not very many people knew that I went, and after I made the final table my wife went on Facebook and on the (tournament’s) website and got the information out how people could tune in online,” he said. “It was very humbling to know how many people in Newton stayed up late ... A lot of people didn’t even know how poker works, but they still paid attention to it because I was in it, and I’m very grateful.”

Winning the top spot in the poker tournament also seems to have made Illingworth more confident of his abilities.

“That was my biggest cash I’ve ever had and it’s a great feeling, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that have told me, you know, that I’ve wasted money and it’s luck and there’s no skill, and to be honest with you there’s a lot of skill involved. I think I proved my critics wrong, and a lot of people that thought I shouldn’t be playing have probably changed their tune about it.”

Amy Martens can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 426 or via email at

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