$10 million ACR 'Venom' finale: Sohale Khalili, a/k/a 'BabyBowser', surges to title

ACR Venom table felt
Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: August 05, 2021 19:28 PDT

(This story has been updated from its original version.)

Americas Cardroom's $10 million 'Venom' tourney, the richest event in the site's history, has found its winner. California pro Sohale Khalili, playing as "BabyBowser", took down the event and its $1,514,000 champion's prize on Wednesday night after routing his foes in a fast-paced five-hour final.

Khalili topped Ireland's Ronan "sw33ney" for the win at the Venom's fast-paced final table. He began the final table in fourth place, behind early leader Sweeney. Khalili came out on the winning side of several early collisions, however, and he'd assumed command of the final by the time it reached three-handed play.

Neither Sweeney nor the eventual third-place finisher, "TALKINGABOOT?" made a serious charge at Khalili during the final's last stages. Like Sweeney, TALKINGABOOT?, another United Kingdom player, also fell to Khalili's rush. TALKINGABOOT? earned $694,000 for his third-place run, while runner-up Sweeney cashed for $1,015,200.

ACR Venom Final table offers international flair

Americas Cardroom isn't only for U.S.-based players, as this final demonstrated. Six of the eight finalists came from outside the U.S. Besides Sweeney from Ireland and TALKINGABOOT? from the UK, two players each from Canada, Brazil, and the U.S. made this final.

BabyBowser (Khalili) was joined in representing the U.S. by Tommy “BTCBlade” Chen, a well-known Californian live-and-online pro. Chen began the final table third in chips, but ran into trouble and exited in seventh. Canada's "lordfish" began the day in second, not far behind Sweeney, but exited in second, while the other Canadian in this final, "cruel" started in sixth and finished in the same spot.

Then there was the solid overall performance by ACR's Brazilian players. Several pros from Brazil made the Venom's final table. The group was led by Eduardo “M CUNHA G” Silva, who started fifth and finished fifth as well. Felipe “Ketzerfelipe” Ketzer also made the final. Ketzer, though, was unable to find a big hand early and was the first player sent to the rail.

Flopped set sends TALKINGABOOT? to the rail

Khalili's rush to the $1.5 million payday included the quick dispatching of his final two foes. He held between 60 and 70% of the 1.1 billion chips in play of the event for much of the roughly 40 minutes the last three players battled. Both Sweeney and TALKINGABOOT? slowly chipped-up against Khalili, however, making it a true three-way battle in its later stages.

An all-in pre-flop race then ended TALKINGABOOT?'s run. With the blinds at 4,000,000/8,000,000, Sweeney folded from the button. Khalili, in the small blind, then raised to 22,000,000. TALKINGABOOT?, in the big blind, re-raised to 60,000,000, for about a third of his stack. Khalili then moved all in, having TALKINGABOOT? well covered, and TALKINGABOOT? called for his remaining chips.

Khalili showed pocket nines, while TALKINGABOOT? had As-Qd. However, Khalili caught his set on the 9s-4s-3d flop, leaving TALKINGABOOT? needing runner-runner help to stay alive. Instead, the 10c turn sealed TALKINGABOOT's third-place exit and a meaningless Jd river card completed the hand.

After he'd sealed the victory, Khalili said, "The first thought that came to my mind when I won was really my wife and baby. We have a seven-month-old and I was playing part of the final table with her in one arm and the mouse in my other hand! I also wanted to make sure not to scare her by jumping out of my chair or yelling, because I had already done that a few times leading up to the win."

Khalili is well known as a live-tourney player, too. This huge $1.5 million payday ranks as his largest poker payday ever, but the L.A.-based pro has also logged over $1 million in live tournament earnings. He's perhaps best known for his three wins in the WSOP Circuit's ring events.

Khalili cracks Sweeney's aces for the victory

Khalili held a 65:35 edge over Sweeney as their heads-up duel began. However, Khalili expanded that edge over the next 15 minutes, at one point leading by over a 4:1 margin. The last hand came during the 5,000,000/10,000,000 level, with Sweeney having about 25 big blinds in chips. He min-raised to 20,000,000 from the button and Khalili called.

The flop came Ks-6h-2d. Khalili checked, and Sweeney bet a smallish 14,620,000. Khalili called, and they saw a 3h turn. The big collision then occurred. Khalili checked, Sweeney bet 49,902,400, Khalili moved all in for 878,023,336, and Sweeney called off his remaining 178,834,264 stack.

Sweeney showed pocket aces, As-Ah, but Khalili opened Kh-6s and had flopped two pair for the lead. That left Sweeney needing to catch an ace or a three to stay alive, but the 4h arrived instead, giving the title and the $1.5 million payday to Khalili.

By virtually any measure, the 2021 edition of the ACR Venom tournament was a huge success. The week-long event drew 3,930 entrants, each of whom either paid the $2,650 entry fee directly or won their ticket through ACR's numerous satellites and promotions in prior weeks.

This Venom tourney also treated its participants to a special bonus, a small $175,000 overlay. The pre-event $10 million guarantee was an aggressive step up from last year's $8 million guarantee offering, and yet it nearly hit that lofty goal, falling just 70 entries short of the 4,000 it technically needed to hit that mark. Nonetheless, it's a safe bet that the 2022 Venom event will feature another guarantee of $10 million, if not even more.

Khalili shares biggest final-table keys

Rushing to a $1.5 million payday in less than five hours on the event's final day meant the huge moments came rapid-fire. Khalili shared some of his thoughts. "There were so many key moments for me; it was a roller coaster. In hindsight, one of them was the very first hand, I got dealt ace-king right away before even sitting in my chair. I made a small preflop bet, and right away someone went all in and I knew I was calling… until the big blind went all in as well. That changed things; I was still leaning towards calling because I had them both covered by nearly a double stack but I decided to play it safer for the obvious monetary reason. It turns out I was up against J-T and Q-Q and the flop was a queen, so that turned out to be a huge laydown.

"Another key moment was when I had a big chiplead and then lost AQ vs A3, if I had won that hand I think I would have just cruised the rest of the way, but I lost that hand and that really forced me to dial in and play pretty fearless poker to battle my way back.

"I didn’t think I would win," he said about his pre-final expectations. "I thought that I would just not get seventh or eighth and knew that I would definitely navigate my way to a top-three finish… but no, I really didn’t think I would win.

"I was very impressed with the play at the final table. Probably one of the toughest I’ve ever played on, I think everybody was playing perfect and didn’t really see anybody make a misstep at all. It seemed like everyone was a pro and that I had almost no edge on anyone. They really forced me to put it all on the line numerous times just to build my stack so it definitely wasn’t easy. Big congratulations to everyone at that final table, they all earned it!"

Venom's deep event structure pleased Khalili

Khalili also praised Venom's extended-play structure. Including multiple full-day starting flights, the $10 million guarantee event stretched for over a week. Khalili said, "I thought the event was great and structured very, very well. It was super deep the whole way, and I enjoyed the early restart times which on the last three days allowed for a 10pm, 6pm, and 4pm end-of-play respectively. The staff has also been very helpful and professional before, during and after the final table.

"The prize pool actually rattled me at the end and the night before the final table. I’m used to playing for tournaments with top prize of anywhere from $100K to $300K, with the difference in pay jumps being $25-$50K. That’s not necessarily life-changing, but in the Venom it was something like a $1M pay jump between the three spots from fourth to first. That is very life-changing, so yes it did affect my nerves, but not my play!

"I prepared mostly by running certain scenarios through my head of what I would do in certain spots and with certain hands. I also had some notes on some of the players that I went over the night before and the day of (the final). I also kind of wanted to see how everyone would play once we were a few hands in, and then adjust accordingly."

When asked about his future plans, a now well-bankrolled Khalili admitted that not too much would change. He said, "Next for in terms of poker is probably just play some more online, the OSS (ACR's Online Super Series) main events and then the WSOP in Las Vegas!"

Final Results

  1. Sohale "BabyBowser" Khalili (USA) - $1,514,000
  2. Ronan “sw33ney” Sweeney (UK) – $1,015,200
  3. "TALKINABOOT?" (United Kingdom) – $694,000
  4. “Lordfish” (Canada) – $504,000
  5. Eduardo “M CUNHA G” Silva (Brazil) – $370,000
  6. "cruel" (Canada) - $265,000
  7. Tommy “BTCBlade” Chen (USA) – $185,000
  8. Felipe “Ketzerfelipe” Ketzer (Brazil) – $130,000

Featured image source: Americascardroom.eu client