All that breaks the silence is the constant clickety-clack of chips. He bested nearly 500 contenders—including several professional card sharks—to walk away with a cool $74,400 (before taxes), which he plunked into his two grandchildren’s college funds. The competition at the poker table is recreation for me.” A gambling enthusiast for more than five decades, Rindone started wagering long before he ever filled out a W-2.
Otherwise, the ballroom on the second floor of the Ameristar, a casino and hotel in East Chicago, Indiana, is as quiet as a library. A few years ago, while sitting in Rindone’s Elmhurst office as he tallied my tax return, I noticed a framed photo on his back wall: There he was, posing in front of a big pile of chips at a Vegas casino, smiling like it was April 16. Did he apply the same no-bullshit approach that he used when ferreting out questionable tax deductions? I’m very calculated.” For a longtime number cruncher, applying his math skills to the game is like a mental vacation. Rindone, who paid $1,650 to buy into today’s game, considers them investments toward his leisure rather than frivolous bets. He caught the bug as a teen on the West Side in the early 1960s, when he and his buddies, including my uncle Kevin, would hang around the Gateway, the old bowling alley on North Avenue.
It’s p.m., and 80-plus fidgety poker players are settling in for what could be a very long night. Wearing a Fighting Illini hoodie and sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup, he strokes his meticulously trimmed white beard, patiently waiting for a hand worth playing. I found it amusing—and slightly alarming—that the bean counter who shepherded my money could be so willing to gamble his own. In September, he invited me to a tournament to see for myself. Like characters in a Scorsese movie, they’d pass the time shooting pool and placing bets with bookies. Angela’s Church, and then we’d go to one guy’s house and play cards in his basement,” he recalls.
Only the top 20 percent of today’s entrants in the opening qualifier of this tournament in the Heartland Poker Tour will move on for a shot at the big payout of more than $166,000. While eating lunch in a sports bar before his first match, Rindone tells me that his profession definitely informs his poker style. “Or we’d get the newspapers and figure out what football game we were going to bet on that day.” Wasn’t that illegal? ” He and his pals eventually started a social club, and from 1969 to 1984, they’d gather in a Belmont Cragin storefront, chomping cigars and playing poker a couple of times a week.
In the early aughts, the rise of internet gambling (now illegal) and stories of newcomers winning millions at the World Series of Poker in Vegas enticed Rindone to try his hand at tournaments.
He started winning big at events such as the Seniors Championship of the World Series of Poker, from which he took home almost $7,000 in 2013.
But that was chump change compared with his performance in last year’s Heartland, which earned him a seat at the nationally televised final round and made my family accountant an instant celebrity in poker circles.