One of the great things about poker is that the game can bring fame to people from all over the world and all walks of life. Born in Rapid City, S.D., and raised in Montana, Layne Flack is a player who, to many people, came from nowhere to become a highly successful player on the poker circuit.
Perhaps it is his humble beginnings in these sparsely populated states that gave him his biggest boost in card playing skills. At most Montana homes everyone knows how to play at least two card games - pinochle and poker.
Flack's was no different as he learned to play pinochle from his grandparents while growing up in big sky country and his card sense easily translated to poker when he was older. He moved back to Rapid City to graduate from high school in 1987 and got a job working in a casino.
In 1991, he decided to head to college and worked as a dealer in Deadwood, S.D., during his summers off. When finishing his shift, he also put into practice some of what he learned from observing other poker players as a dealer.
Like many who've gone the same route though, Flack eventually got the itch to ditch the dealing job and school to become a full-time poker player.
He moved to Reno in 1993 with his then girlfriend and embarked on the first start of his poker career. At one point he claims he made $10,000 a month playing poker and did well in some local tournaments. One tournament was the 2004 Peppermill Summer Poker Tournament, in which he took seventh place in the $100 Omaha Hi-Lo event.
In 1995, Flack's daughter Hailey was born and he decided to move his family back to Montana. They settled in Bozeman where Flack helped open up a card room in a casino. It was while back in Montana that he met and became friends with Huck Seed.
Seed told Flack he should take his talents to Vegas where he was sure to make good money playing poker. That was all the encouragement he needed, and in 1997 he headed back to Vegas by himself.
Not one to do anything tentatively, he dove head first into the tournament pool with a first place finish in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event of the Hall of Fame Poker Classic in August that year. In 1998 he made the move to Las Vegas a permanent stay.
The relocation allowed Flack to increase his tournament play, which certainly didn't hurt his bankroll or his poker reputation. In 1998 he came in second in the $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em World Series of Poker event and cashed in other smaller No-Limit and Limit Hold'em tournaments as well as some Omaha events in Los Angeles and Lake Elsinore.
A first WSOP bracelet for Layne Flack in 1999
1999 brought even more success as he strapped on his first WSOP bracelet for a Pot-Limit Hold'em event and also final tabled in a Limit Hold'em event.
He was becoming quite a regular on the Las Vegas and Los Angeles poker tournament scene, and it was during that time that he met and was befriended by Johnny Chan.
As Flack tells it, he had just won a tournament and had almost completely wasted away what he had one in a side game right afterward. It was late, he was losing, and Chan approached him and told him go get some sleep and he would stake Flack in the tournament on the following day.
Having one of the game's most respected players willing to back him gave Flack a confidence boost. Chan's money wasn't misplaced either. Flack went on to win the tournament the next day, earning Chan half of Flack's first-place prize.
Whatever it was that Chan saw in Flack that early in his career, it grew over the following years and became much more obvious to other poker players as well.
He was not just cashing, but making the final table of several tournaments each year, including events at the World Series of Poker. In 2002 he added two more bracelets to his collection, taking him up to three. This time they were in the $1,500 and $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em events. He also cashed in a third WSOP event that year.
If that wasn't enough to get his name on the minds of poker fans, he made his first final table appearance in a World Poker Tour event later that year in the World Poker Finals. He came in second, bested only by Howard Lederer at a table that also included Phil Ivey and Andy Bloch.
Three months later, in February 2003, he followed up with a WPT win at the Pro-Celebrity Invitational in Los Angeles and then a 10th place finish in the WPT Championship in April.
He rode that tidal wave of success right into the next WSOP starting with a ninth place finish in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em event in April. Next came the WSOP finishes that would give him his nickname, Back-to-Back Flack. He won two events in a row, the $2,500 Omaha Hi-Lo Split and $1,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout to bring his bracelet count up to five.
Success can cause people to react in many ways. Flack had always been a drinker, but when he started having success in poker, he also got involved with drugs. It started back in 2000 when someone introduced him to ecstasy, and from there he started with experimenting with other drugs.
Flack has been very candid about his drug and alcohol use and has told stories of nights of partying that resulted in him heading to tournaments wasted, not even able to drive to the casinos. But he could still play.
Phil Hellmuth has called Flack a "No-Limit Hold'em genius," and even remarked that he's not scared of anyone in the world at No-Limit Hold'em, but has "a healthy respect for 'Drunk Layne!'"
Hellmuth attributes the drinking to helping Flack's game because even though it may contribute to erratic play, his reads are dead on and it makes him fearless. As Hellmuth says, "It's hard to beat a guy with great reads and no fear."
Whether it works in his favor or not in poker, it was hurting his life away from the table.
In 2004, his friends and family had an intervention. His girlfriend picked out a rehab center and Daniel Negreanu footed the $60,000 bill for him to get help.
He spent the month from late July to late August in rehab and was back on the tournament circuit in September with a final table finish in a Borgata Poker Open event in Atlantic City, followed by a second-place finish in the WPT Ultimatebet Poker Classic main event.
His success followed through to the end of the year and into 2005 where he cashed in four WSOP events.
It remains to be seen how successful his rehab was. He may have kicked whatever drug habits he had, but he can definitely still be spotted with a six pack of beer advantage over the playing field at tournaments. Or as a PokerListings.com tournament reporter put it, he doesn't like to let a poker tournament get in between him and a pitcher of exotic drinks.
Despite that he's raked in nearly $3.5 million in tournament winnings so far and doesn't seem to be planning to retire from the poker circuit anytime soon. You can bet you'll be seeing more of him and probably some more big money wins in the future.