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Bowden ‘the final say’ at tourney

Today, Covington County Probate Judge Ben Bowden will spend a lot of time resolving disputes and making sure rules are followed fairly.

That may not seem unusual for a judge, but the difference is Bowden won’t be working at the courthouse, but instead at the Kiwanis Building as a judge for the 34th Annual World Championship Domino Tournament.

“The title I jokingly give myself is ‘chief judge of the World Championship Domino Tournament,’” Bowden said. “Actually, I’m the chairman of the committee that is responsible for judging the games. It’s our job to make sure everyone is following the rules, to resolve disputes between players and to make sure that no players are trying to get an unfair advantage.”

Bowden has worked at the domino tournament for the past seven years. However, this is the first year he will still be a judge even after the tournament is over. Bowden was sworn in as the county’s probate judge in November 2008.

“I first got involved in judging at the tournament when I was recruited by Rotary Club member Jack Perry,” Bowden said. “I had played dominoes before, but I only knew how to play for fun and didn’t know all that much about the rules. Jack taught me a little bit about what to look for, and then it wasn’t long after that when he decided to retire and basically left me to be in charge of it.”

Bowden said his experience as a domino tournament judge has actually taught him some lessons he has been able to use in his work as probate judge.

“Half the time when I get called upon to resolve a dispute between players, I find that if I just let them talk it out for a moment or two, then they’ll solve their own dispute,” he said. “I’ve tried to use that same idea, when appropriate, as a real judge. If you just give people a calm and controlled atmosphere in which to resolve their differences, then most of the time reasonable people will come up with their own solutions.”

He jokingly added that one difference between the two styles of judging is that the domino players are more impatient.

“These guys are serious players and they want an answer right then, so they can get back to their game,” he said. “You don’t have time to get back with them later, or as we like to say in the ‘real judge world’ — you don’t have time to ‘take it under submission.’ You look at the rules, you listen to both sides, and then you try to give a fair answer.

“There’s usually one party who doesn’t like your decision, but as long as you’re firm and give a solid answer, then they’ll usually accept it. That’s often true in regular judging, as well.”

Bowden said two of the biggest problems he notices are players passing when they could have actually played a domino, and partners using hand signals or another system of communicating with other during the course of the game.

He added it is important that all players in the tournament know what the rules are, and know those rules will be enforced fairly and uniformly.

“We publish all of our rules in the program so that everyone knows they’re established and there’s no confusion,” he said. “I’m sure there are players who don’t like some of our rules. For example, in our doubles tournament you have to draw for partners; you can’t just use your own partner. We do that to prevent one champion from pairing up with another champion and just dominating, and we also do it to try and prevent signals and cheating from players who are familiar with each other.

“I think the Rotary Club tries to run a professional and fair tournament, and I think that leaves a good impression on players. They just want it to be a level playing field.”

Bowden said other judges who will help at the tournament include Mayor Earl Johnson, Tom Albritton and David Darby, as well as tournament co-founders Dr. Charles Tomberlin and Carolyn Davis.

“Dr. Tomberlin and Mrs. Davis are the ones who help with the more complicated judging questions,” he said. “Because there’s nothing that’s ever happened in dominoes that Dr. Tomberlin and Mrs. Davis haven’t already seen before. They’re the real experts.”