It was past 2:30 a.m. here in Macau, about 12-and-a-half hours after the final table had begun, and more than six hours since Xing Zhou and Ying Kit Chan had started their heads-up battle.
Here's what they looked like way back when the duel had started. Bright-eyed, determined, ready...
It had been a mighty struggle, and clearly both players had proven themselves worthy to win the Asia Championship of Poker Main Event trophy.
After Zhou had led for much of the way, Chan had claimed the lead during Level 26. Then in Level 27 (20,000/40,000/5,000) a hand arose in which Chan opened with a raise to 100,000 from the button, then Xing Zhou made it 200,000 to go and Chan called.
The flop came 4♠9♣6♣, and Zhou led with a bet of 260,000. Chan considered a beat, then called, and the dealer promptly delivered the 4♦ turn.
Zhou checked this time, and when Chan bet 400,000, Zhou responded with an all-in shove. Chan tanked for a while, then let his hand go, and Zhou triumphantly showed his hand -- A♥T♥!
It was a bold move, perhaps inspired by fatigue or a desire to break the monotony of the otherwise careful play that had marked the previous several hours. It also gave Zhou the chip lead again.
But a bolder move was to come. One displayed by both players, this one perhaps inspired by an idea that both had reached a kind of end limit as far as their competitive desire could go.
Watching from a few feet away, we recognized the pair starting to have an animated conversation, with lots of hand waving and gestures pointing to the trophy and their chips. Adding a layer of strangeness to the scene, they had already been dealt cards for the next hand, but neither had looked at his cards as yet.
Suddenly they came to an agreement, and both stood up to the excited shouts of rail.
What was happening? What had been decided?
That they were done with making decisions. They were ready not just to make a deal, but to split the prize money 50-50.
And what about the trophy? They were both going all in blind right here, literally choosing to let the chips fall where they may.
Could they do that? APPT President and tournament director Danny McDonagh was called over to help make that decision.
The deal-making part of equation was no problem. They were free to chop the remaining prize pool as they liked. But regarding the hand... and the trophy...
After getting assurances from both that neither had looked at his hand, McDonagh explained that essentially the players had now already gone all in and the community cards would be dealt. If Zhou won, the tourney would be over, and if Chan won they'd be playing another hand -- and, importantly, McDonagh couldn't hold either player to do anything going forward. That is to say, they'd have to trust one another (again) if there were going to be anymore hands played similarly.
In a strange way, it all made sense. They'd already essentially gone all in on the hand -- Zhou pushing his stack of 3,317,000 and Chan calling with the 2,203,000 he had left. Now it was time to see the community cards. Another decision had to be made... how would they like to show their hands?
They would deal the community cards first. The players would then reveal their hole cards afterwards. Chan watched from his seat...
...while Zhou stood over the table to watch the community cards come, with neither knowing their significance as they'd yet to look at their hole cards.
The flop came 9♦8♠3♦, then the turn brought the 5♠, then the river the 7♥.
Zhou then turned over one of his hole cards, the T♦, and the crowd groaned. Then Chan turned over one of his, the 5♦. He had a pair!
Then it was Zhou's turn again. He squeezed his card and slammed it down -- the 6♣! He had the nut straight!
Chan quickly turned his remaining card over, and it was the 7♠. Zhou had won! Chan was runner-up. And both will be taking away identical cash prizes of $3,547,000 (HKD).
We're all still shaking our heads here, trying to recall if we'd seen anything like it. None of us can remember anything close. Talk about a memorable conclusion to an incredible two weeks of poker in Macau!
We'll be back in a little while with a recap of everything, including a final look-in over at the "High Rollers" event which has now reached heads-up.
Something tells us we won't be seeing a similar ending happening across the room. Or perhaps ever.
Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog.