UPDATE—Since Texas’ Katherine Bowen won a World Series of Poker Circuit event at Harrah’s Philadelphia early in May and then learned that her husband Joe unexpectedly had died at home, she has continued to play in poker tournaments to honor her husband. Last weekend, Kat Bowen finished 40th in the WSOP Circuit main event in New Orleans, cementing her free seat in the WSOP Circuit National Championship in Las Vegas this summer.
For Bowen’s full story, see below.
By Bill Ordine
Most tales of poker are about drama and conflict; sudden fortune and bad beats.
This one is a love story.
Katherine and Joe Bowen are East Texas folk who built a business from nothing and for whom poker was an escape from the stresses of day-to-day life. Their romance began in middle age at a poker table in Bossier City, Louisiana in the late 1990s and they spent the next decade-and-a-half enjoying the best years of their lives.
Recently, Katherine, better known as Kat, had found her stride as a tournament poker player at age 59 on the World Series of Poker Circuit. And 65-year-old Joe, a better cash player than a tournament player, supported his wife’s emerging tournament career and encouraged her to try her hand at the recent WSOP Circuit series that was held at Harrah’s Philadelphia, just south of the city, earlier in May.
Joe Bowen noted that Kat had been accumulating enough points throughout the season on the WSOP Circuit’s leaderboard to make her a contender for a free seat in the $1 million guaranteed National Championship in Las Vegas this summer, and he wanted her to take a shot at getting enough of those points to earn that freeroll seat. But Joe had to stay behind in Gladewater, Texas, to take care of the couple’s small Internet provider business.
“I went to Philadelphia but frankly, I was pouting,” Kat Bowen said. “I wasn’t happy about being there without Joe. But then I thought, ‘You’re going to give it your best shot.’ So I toughened up and focused and was determined to make this trip pay off.”
And pay off it did. Kat Bowen won Event No. 5 in Philly, a $555 buy-in, no-limit hold’em event on May 2 that earned her more than $18,000. But it wasn’t the money that had Kat celebrating and hugging when the final river card fell. It was knowing that the points she earned for the first-place finish would give her enough to just about guarantee her a spot in the National Championship. And then there was the championship ring awarded to every winner of a WSOP Circuit event that was testament to the faith Joe had in her.
“Joe had called our family and friends and they were all watching (the Internet live streaming) final table,” Kat Bowen said. “He was so happy and so proud.”
The next morning, Kat Bowen was headed to breakfast with friends, still aglow from the previous night’s triumph, when the call came from back home. Joe had taken ill at work—it may have been a heart attack, or possibly a blood vessel had burst—and he was dead.
In an instant, Kat’s world went from giddy elation to grief as friends hurried her to the Philadelphia airport for the sad, long trip back to Texas.
“Joe had gone to the local diner earlier that morning and was bragging on me,” Kat Bowen said. “At least, I know his best friend was with him, comforting him at the end.”
Just a week after Joe Bowen died, Kat Bowen was doing what the two of them always did— she was working, keeping busy running their small ISP business that Joe had grown from 70 customers to 1,300, and for which he had risked their life-savings to start.
The romance that Kat and Joe Bowen shared was made of gentleness, mutual respect and unconditional support. When they started their courtship she told him that she wasn’t a dancing and drinking girl. She preferred a game of pool and fishing.
Joe laughed. That was fine with him, he said. He had battled alcoholism and spent the last few decades of his life sober.
And when Joe suggested plunging all of their money into a small-operation ISP to serve a sliver of East Texas, she thought, “I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather start over again with.”
The Bowens’ socializing was mostly home poker games, and their recent wanderings to various casino poker rooms had been the result of Kat wanting Joe to ease into retirement. They bought a motor home and on the WSOP Circuit trail over the last year, they made stops in places such as Durant, Oklahoma and Tunica, Mississippi, West Palm Beach and St. Louis. Along the way, Kat kept fighting her way past bubbles and into the money, and to the occasional final table, picking up WSOP Circuit points in the process.
And something else was happening on this journey of endless flops, turns and rivers in poker room after poker room. They found new friends—and some that surprised them.
“These people on the poker circuit, they’re a lot like family,” Kat Bowen said. “These kids in their 20s and 30s with their tattoos and their hoodies, I can’t tell you how many text messages and calls I got from them after Joe passed away. Everyone wants to win, but they can still congratulate someone else’s success, pat you on the back and really mean it.”
Before the tournament at Harrah’s Philadelphia, Kat wasn’t fully aware of the significance of the WSOP Circuit points system, but Joe understood. It was why he pushed his wife to make the trip East to Philly where pros from around the country were converging, all chasing those precious points.
So when she won her Circuit event and Kat Bowen rejoiced by embracing everyone in sight, it was because she had been able to reward her husband’s faith.
“I am so glad to have that (championship) ring now,” Kat Bowen said. “This would have meant so much to my husband.”
Kat Bowen has at least one more trip to make—to the Rio casino in Las Vegas where the WSOP National Championship is being held in July, just before the famous Main Event. She’ll be in a field that will include the 100 most accomplished players on the Circuit this season plus dozens of the most recognizable names in poker who have also been invited to play in the tournament for a $10,000 buy-in.
“We are so lucky compared to other people in a similar position,” Kat Bowen said of her life with Joe. “When he left, he was happy. He did what he wanted to do with his life and he was a success.”
“And one of the last things he wanted was for me to go get those points,” Kat Bowen said. “And I did. I got them for Joe.”
- Main Photo: Kat Bowen celebrated her poker win at Harrah’s Philadelphia the night before her husband died. Courtesy WSOP.
- Joe Bowen died unexpectedly the day after his wife won the biggest poker tournament of her life.