|KEG: Probably Lee's best game in the London 1899 tournament. He had a few bumps along the way, but his Queen-side attack, his exchange sacrifice, and his closing combination were all beautiful to behold.|
As keypusher noted years ago on this site, Lee was happy to join the bandwagon and play the French Defense against Tchigorin, confident that he would face Tchigorin's disastrous 2. Qe2 variation.
Like Cohn and Lasker before him, Lee played 3...e5, theoretically losing time, but emphasizing the misplacement of the White Queen as a result of 2. Qe2. But like Cohn, Lee, erred with 4...Nd4, driving Tchigorin's Queen to a better square (d1) and losing time with his Knight, which wound up withdrawing back to c6 on move 7.
The opening errors by both sides essentially balanced out and left the game about equal after move 10. But then Tchigorin--having a bad day--messed up his game with 11. h3 and 12. Nd2. Lee took advantage of Tchigorin's dithering by playing the excellent 12... d5, seizing the initiative. But Lee overreached with 13...d4 (13...Nd4 was much better). While 13...d4 was a mistake, the advantaged pawn chain Lee was building was destined to win him the game.
In any case, Tchigorin responded poorly with 15. Nf1 and 16. Qd2 followed by the horribly weakening 17. g3.
In response, Lee began his Queen-side pawn charge with 17...b5.
The Tournament Book calls Tchigorin's 20. Bc1 "an elaborate plan for a King's side attack." So far as I can see, 20. Bc1 was a mistake pure and simple after which Lee ran Tchigorin off the board. (Tchigorin would have had an inferior but likely playable game with the much better 20. b4).
Lee began his winning assault with 20...a4 and (after Tchigorin's awful 21. Bd1 and 22. Qg2) with 22...c5.
After Tchigorn's 23. Bd2, I expected Lee to play the tempting 23...c3. But Lee obviously saw deeper into the position. He realized that the game was now about one critical square: c3. His exploitation of this square defines most of the rest of the game.
After re-positioning his Rook, and ignoring the chance to advance his pawn to c3, Lee faced the following position after 26. Nh2:
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Here Lee began his winning assault with 26...Rc3 (occupying the critical c3 square). As the Tournament Book notes, Tchigorin could have put up some resistance with 27. Qe2. Instead, he played the useless 27. Ra2, and Lee's attack quickly became unstoppable.
After 27...Rxd3 28. Qe2 (one move too late!), Lee's Rook returned to the critical square with 28...Rc3. Tchigorin finally took the offered Rook with 29. BxR and after 29...dxB, and in an already lost position, tried a misguided King's side attack with 30. Nf1, 31. g4, and 32. g5. Lee responded carefully with 30...Nf8 and 31...Ne6. With a passed pawn on c3 and with Tchigorin's King's-side attack going nowhere, the game seemed over.
But at this stage, Lee suddenly weakened. His 36...Qd6 was far inferior to 36...Rd8 or 36...g7; and his 37...Qd4 made the win problematic. After Lee's awful 39...Kf8?, Tchigorin could have saved himself by simply trading Queens with 40. QxQ.
But Tchigorin erred with 40. Kg1, and Lee was back in business.
Lee's 40...Bc8 was perhaps not as good as 40...Be6, but it was good enough to win, and from here on Lee played excellent chess.
Tchigorin's 42. Rg1 was a sheer waste of time (Tchigorin should have traded Queens here to have any chance at all), and the White Rook had to re-trace its steps on the very next move.
After the trade of Queens and of a set of minor pieces, Lee played the crushing 45...d3. Tchigorin--assuming he did not want to resign--should have tried 46. Bb1. Instead, he played 46. Rd1. Lee was ready for this, and simply played 46...dxB, sacrificing his other Rook!
After 47. RxR+ Ke7, Tchigorin had to return the Rook to stop Lee's c-pawn from Queening. And then, after the forced 48. Rh1 KxR, Tchigorin tried 49. Ke3, after which Lee had a final nasty surprise for him in the following position:
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Lee here played the lovely 49...Ne2, leaving Tchigorin without any defense. (If 50. KxN Ng3+ is a winning Knight fork).
Definitely a bad day at the office for the Tchigorin, but all in all a good performance by Lee.