Layne Flack’s reputation precedes him. The World Poker Tour describes Layne as “poker’s party boy” and “a dynamo in action.” The Travel Channel says he “plays an ultra-aggressive brand of poker.” Phil Hellmuth describes Layne as a “no-limit poker genius.”
One only need observe Layne for a moment to instantly witness an effervescent, chatty, intelligent, and refreshingly honest young man. Nearly everyone is aware of Layne’s nickname, “Back-to-Back Flack,” for his amazing feat of winning two coveted World Series of Poker bracelets back-to-back in no-limit hold’em events in 2002. He won the tournament’s first two no-limit hold’em events that year, topping fields of 449 and 528 players. The guy is relentless.
Layne was born in Rapid City, South Dakota, on May 18, 1969, and grew up mostly in Montana. He moved back to South Dakota to graduate from high school in 1987, and began working in a casino.
In 1991, he went back to college in South Dakota, and during the summers, he went to Deadwood, South Dakota, to deal cards. (Deadwood was made famous by the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane in the late 1870s.) Word has it that Layne was one of the best poker dealers ever.
A Taste of Poker
“In 1993, I met a girl and we moved to Reno. I played poker and won about $10,000 in a month. Then, I started playing bigger. I played in a no-limit tournament at the Reno Hilton and won it. I started winning, and it came easy to me.
“My daughter Hailey was born in 1995. I moved back to Montana with my girlfriend and my daughter. We moved to Bozeman, Montana, to open up a cardroom in the casino. I did that for a while, but the mistake I made was caring more about work than my family.”
“I came alone to Vegas in 1997. In August, I entered the Hall of Fame $1,500 no-limit hold’em tournament at the Horseshoe, and with little experience, I won the tournament and $67,800. I still haven’t spent that money! I helped out some friends who haven’t yet paid me back.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I moved back to Montana for a while. Then in 1998, I finally moved back to Vegas for good.”
An Ego Boost From Johnny Chan
“When I first came back to Vegas, I seemed to win everything I touched. I won in limit and in no-limit, and started playing in an Omaha split $300-$600 game. I was beating up everyone.
“One day, I won a Situs pkv games tournament but practically lost it all in a side game. It was late and I was losing. Johnny Chan said, ‘Hey, kid, get some sleep and I will stake you tomorrow.’ That was quite an ego boost. I played the Rio $500 no-limit tournament; Johnny staked me and I won it. Our deal was 50 percent with make-up.”
Johnny Chan is one of poker’s most respected players for his skill, his poker finesse, and the nine WSOP bracelets he has won. The fact that he would stake Layne was not only a great compliment to Layne, but also a great read by Johnny, judging by Layne’s incredible tournament success.
Layne cannot remember all of his high finishes, but here are some of them:
December 2004, $2,000 no-limit hold’em; Five-Diamond World Poker Classic, 13th, $6,690
November 2004, consolation tournament; Monte Carlo Millions, second, $40,000
October 2004, $3,000 no-limit hold’em; Festa al Lago III, second, $96,168
October 2004, $6,000 no-limit hold’em; Ultimatebet.com Poker Classic, second, $500,000
September 2004, $2,500 no-limit hold’em; Borgata Poker Open — WPT, fifth, $36,788
June 2004, $10,000 no-limit hold’em; Championship Poker at the Plaza, sixth, $20,000
March 2004, $1,000 no-limit hold’em; World Poker Challenge, 18th, $1,922
December 2003, $2,500 Omaha eight-or-better; Bellagio Five-Diamond World Poker Classic, first, $92,150
November 2003, $300 half seven-card stud & half limit hold’em; World Poker Finals, 15th, $1,362
September 2003, $100 no-limit hold’em — twilight; Four Queens Poker Classic, first, $9,811
September 2003, $500 Omaha eight-or-better; Four Queens Poker Classic, first, $15,715
May 2003, $1,500 limit hold’em shootout; World Series of Poker, first, $120,000
May 2003, $2,500 Omaha eight-or-better; World Series of Poker, first, $119,260
April 2003, $5,000 no-limit hold’em; World Series of Poker, ninth, $11,800
April 2003, $25,000 no-limit hold’em; Bellagio Five-Star World Poker Classic WPT Championship, 10th, $31,997
April 2003 $2,500 no-limit hold’em; Bellagio Five-Star World Poker Classic, 16th, $4,888
February 2003, WPT Invitational Tournament; first, $125,000
November 2002, $10,000 no-limit hold’em — WPT; World Poker Finals, second, $186,900
May 2002, $1,500 no-limit hold’em; World Series of Poker, first, $268,020
April 2002, $2,000 no-limit hold’em; World Series of Poker, first, $303,880
May 2001, $5,000 seven-card stud; World Series of Poker, 11th, $7,565
April 2001, $2,000 no-limit hold’em; World Series of Poker, third, $81,270
August 2000, $5,000 no-limit hold’em; Legends of Poker championship event, first, $114,000
May 2000, $5,000 Omaha eight-or-better; World Series of Poker, third, $59,400
May 1999, $3,000 pot-limit hold’em; World Series of Poker, first, $224,400
April 1999, $1,500 limit hold’em; World Series of Poker, eighth, $18,270
April 1998, $2,000 no-limit hold’em; World Series of Poker, second, $133,000
August 1997, $1,500 no-limit hold’em; Hall of Fame, first, $67,800
Layne’s first WSOP bracelet was won in 1999. Although he was in the money the next two years, he didn’t dazzle the poker community until 2002.
In April 2002, he won his second WSOP bracelet in the $2,000 no-limit hold’em event, taking home $303,880. Two weeks later, he entered the $1,500 no-limit hold’em tournament and decimated his competitors again, taking home an additional $268,020.
Layne waded through nearly a thousand competitors total to capture these two first-place wins. And he won more than $570,000 in two weeks. Yep, that Johnny Chan sure had a good read on Layne!
By the way, the next year, Layne did it again, winning two more bracelets back-to-back. But it just wasn’t as exciting in 2003, since we all knew he could pull off that sort of thing. It wasn’t as shocking, but it was still awesome.
“When I first started playing poker, I didn’t even know I could play no-limit. When I first started playing, I was winning. I don’t know how I did it. When some people asked me questions, I gave answers that flabbergasted them.
“As it turns out, in no-limit, everything you think you should do, do the opposite. In no-limit, you shouldn’t raise on the button, because everyone steals on the button.
“I was always a great people reader. In no-limit, a person might have to go all in. Everyone thinks you should go after the short stack, but I believe you should go after the big stacks. Not only that, the big stacks play scared against you because they have something to lose.
“I have many weaknesses in my game. Boredom is one and discipline is another. Getting ahead of myself is a big one. Then again, sometimes it benefits me. You never know. You can’t complain about what you’ve done wrong, as long as you learn from it.”
When I asked Layne to rate his play, he said: “A lot of people put me in the top category. Chip Jett told me that, undoubtedly, I’m in the top. But I would never say that about myself. I swore to my girlfriend a long time ago that I would always stay humble.”
“At one point in 1999, I stayed home and ran thousands of poker hands in my head. Then, I started playing in Larry Flynt’s $2,000-$4,000 stud game. I moved up to the $6,000-$12,000 game at Harrah’s, where I met Jerry Buss. When you meet someone, you can tell who they are and what they’re made of. We formed a friendship bond. I love his entourage. I go to all the Laker games and I feel so privileged.”
In 2003, Layne and Jerry were heads up at the WPT Celebrity Invitational Tournament that many of us watched on TV. It was interesting to see how the two smiled and joked with one another, almost as if they were related. Jerry made a respectable showing for a nonprofessional, but Layne was in complete control and won the title, the honor, and $125,000.
Layne is a gutsy guy who deserves respect for his frankness. He openly spoke about his use of alcohol and drugs, a topic gossiped about and widely discussed.
“I used to have a beer on each side of me. I could walk in and hardly drink, but because I have an outgoing personality, I got a bad rap. I could have a beer in front of me and people would think I was drunk, so a lot of people thought I was drunk all the time.
“Before 2000, I drank but never did drugs. Then, in Tunica, Mississippi, someone gave me an ecstasy pill. From there, I started trying everything. I don’t regret any of it. I wanted to learn about drugs. I was bored. I wanted to try stuff. I had plenty of money. I never had to be anywhere. I enjoyed it. But a person can do that for only so long.
“I remember playing in the Legends of Poker in August of 2000. I was being staked by Ted Forrest. At the end, I was heads up against Jeff (Shulman). The night before, Ted and I stayed up and partied all night long. I was so out of it, I couldn’t even drive myself to the casino. I had to take a cab to get there. Even though I was wasted, I still won.
“I am one of the most cognitive drunks around. I could be passed out on my chips, but when the floorman came over, I could tell him exactly what just happened.
“I knew I had to stop.”
“I discipline myself in certain ways. I lost a few hundred thousand betting sports. So now, I don’t watch sports so that I won’t bet and lose. I know if I watch, I will bet, and I don’t want to fall back into that. I discipline myself on things where I know I need to stay away.
“In my mind, I thought I could stop drinking and doing drugs. I guess the people who love me had a different idea. My brother called from South Dakota to ask my friend Daniel Negreanu (who was staking me) if there was anything he could do to help. My girlfriend, Paulette, searched for a program, which I agreed to do. It cost $60,000.
“Daniel paid the 60K for my rehab. I went into the program from July 22 through August 22, 2004. When I came out, the doctor gave me Ritalin, because I am hyperactive. I do well with no sleep. I have pretty close to a photographic memory. The doctor gave me 10 cards. Although I can’t remember a name, I could say the 10 cards frontward and backward.
“I don’t drink or do anything now, because I think that many people are in my corner, and I don’t want to let them down. Everything is boring to me except winning. No one is staking me. I have goals that are more near to me.
“I also have a 24-year-old girlfriend who keeps my mind full. And what keeps me going is helping other people. Paulette thinks it’s one of the greatest things about me.”
“I seem to have an intuition in poker that is amazing. I think I have a sixth sense. I am big on karma. I will make calls with the worst of it, knowing I am going to win. If I lose a hand, I feel I am going to win the next three hands, so my confidence stays high. I never forget a hand that I played with a person.
“In poker, there are 100 things to do and you have to do 98 of them right. I played so many hands of Omaha. If you’re too creative, you don’t pay attention. So, I stopped playing Omaha. Once you think you’re good, you slip.
“In no-limit, I have stayed good, so I go the extra mile to protect my reputation. I do that by playing with a lot of heart.”
Life’s Biggest Highlights
“I flew my daughter to the 2004 UltimateBet Poker Classic in Aruba, but they wouldn’t let her watch me play every day of the tournament, just the final table. I fought and played with so much heart to get to the final table, and I got there.
“One of the biggest highlights in my life was having my 9-year-old daughter Hailey watch me play at the final table and win a half a million dollars. My daughter really loves and misses me, and it is great when we see one another. She and her mom moved back to South Dakota. She’s all about family. She has values I wish I had.
“Another highlight of my life was getting out of rehab and feeling good about life.”
It Can’t Be Taught
Finally, when I asked Layne to explain why his no-limit game is so good, he said: “I didn’t used to realize how important it is to fight for a good game. Get in there and play. I don’t read books. I don’t want to change my style; I don’t want to be influenced by what others do or say. I don’t discuss hands with other people.”
He smiled, paused, and then concluded: “I do things others won’t do. Not everything can be taught or written down. That’s how I feel about my no-limit game. It can’t be taught or written down.”