The Mexican Defense

The Mexican Defense

| 29 | Opening Theory

Mr. Woodrow asked:

Playing as Black, I have responded to 1.d4 in a number of ways. I have tried variations of the Nimzo-Indian, the Gruenfeld, the King’s Indian, the Queen’s Indian, the Bogo-Indian, the Queen’s Gambit Declined, and possibly others the names of which I’m not aware. My question relates to the Mexican Defense: A50. After having some of my Turn-Based and Live Chess games analyzed by the computer, it turns out that I play a great many Mexican Defense games as Black, and I usually do well in them. Of course, I had no idea I was playing any specific defense when I made the moves. I just made what I thought was the best move available. I think I might stick with this defense, but before committing myself, I’d like to know what drawbacks or pitfalls I might expect.


Dear Woodrow:

Okay guys, please give me moves in the future. Tossing an A50 or C35 doesn’t mean anything to me at all! What am I, some sort of robot? Do you actually think I’ve memorized the whole chess opening code? At age 112, I’m just happy I remember my name and where I live – don’t expect more of my memory than that!

Here’s another reason you don’t want to feed me code and avoid moves: In ChessBase, if I do a search for all games with the A50 code, I get 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b6, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.g3 b6, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 b6, and various other bizarre move orders.

Of course, I know what you really mean (though, instead of the Mexican Defense, I call it the Black Knights’ Tango) simply because I have played this opening for Black many times, and have even helped with the creation of some of its theory: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6.

The main American heroes of this system are IM Georgi Orlov and Grandmaster Joel Benjamin, though quite a few other creative players – like Grandmaster Larry Christiansen – have also made good use of it over the years. It’s certainly an interesting opening, but you can’t really force the main lines if White simply avoids it by 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 and now 2…Nc6 3.d5 isn’t exactly what Black was looking for. On the other hand, after 2.Nf3 you can enter some other opening where White has made a concession (placing the Knight on f3). This means that after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 White can’t play a Samisch Variation against the KID, and if you choose 2…e6 after 2.Nf3, White might have preferred a Nimzo-Indian with the king-Knight back on g1.

Also, after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 e6 4.Nc3 Black might as well play 4…Bb4, entering a Nimzo-Indian, while 4.g3 Bb4+ takes Black into a Bogo-Indian.

There is some very good literature on the Tango, namely The Black Knights’ Tango by Georgi Orlov (Batsford 1998) and Tango! by Richard Palliser (Everyman Chess 2005). You can also find a free, highly interesting, 4 part series on the Black Knights’ Tango by Joel Benjamin on my site:

Here are some illustrative games on this opening:

Zhu Chen (2535) - Larry Christiansen (2565) US - China Summit, Seattle 2001

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.d5 Ne7 5.g3 Ng6 6.Bg2 Bc5 7.e3 0-0 8.Nge2 a6 9.0-0 d6 10.Bd2 Bd7 11.Rb1 b5 12.b4 Bb6 13.a4 bxc4 14.a5 Ba7 15.b5 axb5 16.Nxb5 Bf5 17.Ra1 Bc5 18.Nec3 Bd3 19.e4 Qd7!

Ignoring the offered Exchange and instead playing for a direct attack against white’s King.

20.Re1 Rfb8 21.Qa4 Ng4 22.Be3 Nxe3 23.fxe3 h5! 24.Bf1 h4 25.Bxd3 cxd3 26.Kg2 hxg3 27.hxg3 d2 28.Re2 Qg4 29.Rh1 Nf4+! 30.exf4 exf4 31.Rxd2 Qxg3+ 32.Kf1 Qf3+ 33.Ke1 Qxh1+, 0-1.


Stephen Brudno - Joel Benjamin U.S. Open 2001

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.d5 Ne7 5.e4 Ng6 6.Be3 Bb4 7.f3 Bxc3+

Not falling for 7…d6?? 8.Qa4+.

8.bxc3 d6 9.c5 0-0 10.Bd3 Nd7 11.cxd6 cxd6 12.Ne2 Qa5 13.0-0 Nc5 14.Bc4 Bd7 15.Bb3 Rac8 16.g3 f5 17.Bc2 fxe4 18.fxe4 Rxf1+ 19.Kxf1 Bh3+ 20.Kg1 Rf8 21.Qd2 Qxa2! 22.Re1 Qc4 23.Bf2 a5 24.Nc1 Rf3 25.Ne2 a4 26.Qg5 Nxe4, 0-1.


Okay, Christiansen and Benjamin make the Tango look like a mating machine. In the next game I was satisfied to win in less dramatic fashion against a very strong opponent.

Dao Thien Hai (2495) - Silman, Budapest 1994

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3

The key line is 3.d5 Ne5 4.e4 e6 (4…Nxe4?? 5.Qd4! wins a piece) 5.f4 Ng6 6.Bd3 (6.e5 Ne4 7.Qf3 Bb4+ 8.Kd1 f5 9.Bd3 0-0 10.Bxe4 fxe4 11.Qxe4 d6 12.Nf3 Ba5! left Black with lots of development and a safe King in R.Potter - Benjamin, World Open 2003. White got just what he deserved after 13.Nc3 dxe5 14.fxe5 exd5 15.cxd5 Bf5 16.Qd4 c5 17.Qxc5 Rc8 18.Qd4 Bxc3 19.bxc3 Qa5 20.Bd2 Qb5 21.d6 Rc4 22.Qxa7 Nxe5 23.Nxe5 Qxe5 24.Qa3 Qd5 25.Re1 Rfc8 26.Kc1 h6 27.Re7 Qd3 28.Qb3 Kh7 29.Rc7 R8xc7 30.dxc7 Rxc7 31.a4 Bg6 32.Ra2 Rf7 33.Rc2 Rf1+ 34.Kb2 Rf2 35.Kc1 Rxg2 36.h4 Rh2 37.a5 h5 38.Qa4 Rxd2 39.Kb2 Rxc2+ 40.Qxc2 Qxc2+, 0-1.) 6…exd5 7.e5 Ne4 8.cxd5 Qh4+ 9.g3 Bb4! 10.Bd2? (10.Nc3) 10…Nxg3! 11.Nf3 Nxf4! 12.Bf1! (and not 12.Nxh4 Nxd3 mate!) 12…Bxd2+! 13.Nbxd2 Qh3!! 14.Ng5 (14.Bxh3? Nd3 mate) 14…Qg2!! and black’s winning – analysis by Orlov.

3…e5 4.d5 Ne7 5.e4 Ng6 6.Be3 Bb4 7.f3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 d6 9.Bd3 0-0 10.Ne2

I would have answered 10.c5 with 10...Nd7 11.cxd6 cxd6 when the open c-file will allow me to create easy pressure against White's c-pawn.

10…Nd7 11.Qd2 b6 12.Bg5 f6 13.Be3 Nc5 14.Bxc5 bxc5 15.h4 f5 16.h5

White didn’t like the look of 16.exf5 Nxh4.


This puts the initiative firmly in Black’s hands.

17.Nxf4 exf4 18.Qc2

18.Qxf4? fxe4 19.Qxe4 Re8 loses on the spot while 18.exf5 Bxf5 19.Bxf5 Rxf5 favors Black due to the weakness of White’s c-, g- and h-pawns.

18...Qg5 19.0-0-0 fxe4 20.Bxe4 Bf5 21.Rde1

The position is far from pleasant for White. For example, 21.Bxf5 Rxf5 22.Rde1 Re5 leaves Black with all the chances.

21...Bxe4 22.Rxe4 Rae8 23.Rhe1!?

White decides to sacrifice a pawn in the hope of getting a bit of counterplay. The position after 23.Re2 Re3 couldn’t have been to his taste.

23...Rxe4 24.Qxe4 Qxh5

It’s important that my Queen be in a position to rush back for defense. One way to implode would be 24...Qxg2? 25.Qe6+ Kh8?? (25...Rf7) 26.Qf7! Rg8 27.Re8 when Black must resign.

25.a4 a5 26.Qe7 Qf7

It’s a technical win, but a high degree of technique is required to reel in the full point. At this point in my life I found such endgames to be “relaxing puzzles” that I enjoyed solving.

27.Re4 h6 28.Qxf7+ Rxf7 29.Re8+ Kh7 30.Kd2

Black’s h-pawn turns out to be far stronger than White’s a-pawn after 30.Ra8 Re7 31.Kd2 (worse is 31.Rxa5 Re2) 31...Re5 32.Rxa5 Rg5.


This Rook lift to g5 makes the win possible.


31.Re7 Rg5.

31...Rg5 32.Re2

32.Re7 Rxg2 33.Rxc7 h5! wins by force. One example: 34.Rf7 Rf2 35.Rxf4 g5! 36.Rf6 g4. - Silman

32...Kg6 33.Rb2 Kf5 34.Rb7 Rxg2 35.Rxc7 Rg6 36.Rf7+ Ke5 37.Re7+ Kf6 38.Ra7 h5 39.Rxa5 h4 40.Rb5 Rg2 41.Rb8 Rf2 42.a5

Better resistance can be had by 42.Ke4, though Black would still ultimately prevail after 42...Kg5 43.a5 Re2+ 44.Kd3 Ra2. It’s still very complicated, and thus well worth analyzing for the reader interested in improving his endgame skills.

42...Rxf3+ 43.Kc2 Rf1 44.Kb2 Re1 45.Rd8 Kg5 46.a6 Re7 47.Rxd6 f3 48.Re6 Rf7 49.Re1 f2 50.Rf1 Kg4 51.a7 Rxa7 52.Rxf2 h3 53.Rd2 g5 54.d6 Rd7 55.Kc2 Kg3 56.Rd5

No better is 56.Rd3+ Kh4 followed by ...g5-g4.

56...g4, 0-1.

No doubt about it, the Mexican Defense/Black Knights' Tango is a pretty cool opening!

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