Jim Bowlan can’t get enough of bridge. “I’m eat up with it,” he says.
Bowlan, 71, is one of the local volunteers helping to make the tournament possible, staffing the I/N partnership desk. But he had ulterior motives for stepping up. “I just want to play as much as I can,” he says. “That’s why I’m working here, so I can get more opportunities to play.”
Bowlan started playing shortly before the 2012 Memphis NABC. “I retired and my wife told me I had to get out of her hair,” he explains. He recalls attending all the classes with Jerry Helms, Audrey Grant and Barbara Seagram and playing in the free 0–5 games. They all made an impression, and he still reads “Ask Jerry” first when he gets his Bridge Bulletin.
He’s still big on opportunities to learn from renowned teachers and has been attending all the speakers’ lectures unless they conflict with his volunteer hours. That’s how he met Norman Beck, who wound up on the speaker schedule three times after some cancellations.
Beck was impressed with his curiosity and invited him to play in the side game Sunday morning.
“I’ve never seen anybody so excited,” Beck said. “He’s like a little sponge. When the game was over, he wanted to know every mistake he made. You don’t find that.”
Bowlan had to rush back after the game to work the partnership desk. He was impressed that Beck waited for him to finish his shift to go over the hand record. “He plays just like what he teaches in his class,” Bowlan said, referring to the rules of etiquette Beck distributes. “That impressed me more than anything else.”
There’s a reason Bowlan is so frequently decked out in Kansas City Royals attire. His grandson Jonathan Bowlan was recently drafted to that team. Jim’s son also was a baseball player who played for the St. Louis Cardinals. “I was a Cardinals fan all my life and now I’ve had to switch my allegiance.” Jonathan and his father are both pitchers who played at the University of Memphis. “He’s got a 97 mph fastball. He has a chance to make it.”
Bowlan, who has about 30 masterpoints, relishes opportunities to learn wherever he can find them. He likes that the novice game he plays in at the M.A. Lightman Club is held at the same time as an open game so he can ask local experts like Al Stone about hands.
“Bridge makes me feel good,” Bowlan says. “It lightens me up. A good day doesn’t have to be winning. I have to have a bridge fix.”