KEG: This game is the last time these two immortals of the chessboard crossed swords. Sadly, it is not one of their better contests.
Steinitz once again burdened himself with a bad opening, this time a poor variation as Black against Tchigorin's Ponziani Opening. Given that Bird played the identical line against Tchigorin nine rounds later, this variation may represent contemporary wisdom as to how to combat this opening, though it is hard to see why anyone would think this line was best play for Black.
The Tournament Book's comments notwithstanding, Tchigorin's 10. Rd1 here is far inferior to the simple 10. Bxd3 Tchigorin played against Bird in the later game. It certainly seems as if Tchigorin had studied this opening between this game and the time of his game against Bird, and that Bird faced more enterprising play. As the opening went here, after Tchigorin's questionable 13. Bf4 (instead of the indicated 13. Nd2) Steinitz could have achieved near equality with 13...Bd7.
But Steinitz had unjustified ideas of an attack on the b-file and played 13...Rb8, allowing Tchigorin to work up all sorts of threats. Having made this questionable move, Steinitz should at least have followed through on his idea and after Tchigorin's 15. Nd2 have played 15...Rxb2. The Tournament Book states that this move by Steinitz would have lost the exchange after 16. Nb3, but after 16...Nd5 17. Qa3 Steinitz would have had a draw with 17...Rxf2!! 18. KxR Qe3+ 19. Kf1 Bxh3!! 20. gxB Qxh3+ with a perpetual check [if 21. Ke1 Qe3+ and now 22. Be2 leads to mate in 2 for Black].
The move Steinitz actually made, 15...Nd5 should have landed him in trouble after 16. Nc4, but Tchigorin let Steinitz off the hook with 16. Qh4. Steinitz was now fine until his careless 17...Nf6, which overlooked Tchigorin's Knight fork with 18. Nd4. This was clearly not the Steinitz of old.
Once Steinitz lost a pawn, he apparently decided to try a coffee-house attack against his fabled opponent. Not surprisingly, these wild tactics did not work against a master of combinations like Tchigorin.
By move 25, Steinitz was down a Knight, and could safely have resigned. As a final indignity, however, he walked into Tchigorin's neat 29. Qxe4. Since Steinitz couldn't take Tchigorin's Queen because this would have allowed 30. Rd8+, the game came to a sudden and horrible end for Steinitz.
As I have said before on this site, watching Steinitz in this his last tournament is sad. He was old, sick, financially ruined,and no longer able to play at anything approaching the level of his glory years (though he did manage to end the Tournament with a surprising win over Janowski).
We should remember the great Steinitz based on his championship play over three decades and not for this last tournament, the only one in which he failed to win even a minor prize.