Black Knights’ Tango (Mexican Defense) - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6

Black Knights’ Tango (Mexican Defense)

The Black Knights’ Tango, also known as the Mexican Defense, is a less common but intriguing opening in response to the Queen’s Pawn Game.

The opening moves are 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6.

With its unique move order and emphasis on a quick and flexible development, it can throw unprepared opponents off their game.

While not as widely used as some other chess openings, the Black Knights’ Tango has its own charm and intrigue, offering plenty of possibilities for complex and exciting play.

Move Order of the Black Knights’ Tango

The move order of the Black Knights’ Tango is distinctive and characterized by the early development of both black knights.

Black Knights’ Tango (Mexican Defense) - 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6

After 1.d4, Black immediately signals the intention to engage in the Tango with 1…Nf6. Then, 2.c4 is met with 2…Nc6.

This opening sequence is a clear departure from the more traditional d5 defenses to 1.d4 and seeks to prepare for a rapid and flexible pawn setup.

Theory, Strategy, and Purpose of the Black Knights’ Tango

The Black Knights’ Tango, in essence, is a hypermodern opening where Black allows White to occupy the center with pawns, only to challenge it later.

The purpose of developing both knights before moving any central pawns is to provide flexibility in choosing how to counter White’s center.

Depending on how White responds, Black may decide to strike at the center with moves like …e5 or …d5, or even to fianchetto one or both bishops.

Variations of the Black Knights’ Tango

Like all chess openings, the Black Knights’ Tango can branch off into several variations, each with its own nuances.

One popular variation occurs after 3.Nc3 e5, where Black directly challenges the center.

In another variation, Black may choose to fianchetto the kingside bishop with 3…g6, aiming for a solid, fianchettoed setup similar to the King’s Indian Defense.

However, the opening remains fluid, and Black’s exact setup often depends on White’s moves.

Evaluation of the Black Knights’ Tango

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 is generally evaluated around +0.60 to +0.80 for white.

Theory & Continuation Lines of the Black Knights’ Tango

Below we have some common theory and continuations from the Black Knight’s Tango (Mexican Defense) starting move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 that you’d see at the highest level of play.

3. Nf3

3. Nf3 e6 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Qc2 d5 6. e3 Bxc3+ 7. Qxc3 O-O 8. b4 Ne4 9. Qb2 b6 10. Bd3 Ng5 11. Nxg5 Qxg5 

3. Nf3 e6 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Qc2 d6 6. Bd2 e5 7. a3 Bxc3 8. Bxc3 Nxd4 9. Nxd4 exd4 10. Bxd4 Qe7 11. O-O-O O-O 12. e3 b6 13. Bd3 h6 14. Kb1 c5 15. Bc3 

3. Nf3 e6 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Qc2 d6 6. Bd2 e5 7. a3 Bxc3 8. Bxc3 Nxd4 9. Nxd4 exd4 10. Bxd4 Qe7 11. e3 c5 12. Bc3 Ne4 13. Bxg7 Rg8 14. Bc3 Bf5 15. O-O-O Ng3 16. Bd3 Bxd3 

3. Nf3 e6 4. e3 Bb4+ 5. Nbd2 d6 6. Bd3 e5 7. d5 e4 8. dxc6 exd3 9. cxb7 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 Bxb7 11. Qxd3 Qd7 12. h3 O-O-O 13. b3 Rhe8 14. Bb2 Ne4 15. Qc2 f5 16. O-O-O Qf7 17. Rhg1 f4 18. Bd4 a5 19. exf4 Qxf4+ 20. Kb2 

3. Nf3 e6 4. e3 Bb4+ 5. Nbd2 d6 6. a3 Bxd2+ 7. Nxd2 e5 8. d5 Ne7 9. b3 O-O 10. Be2 Nd7 11. Bb2 Ng6 12. g3 f5 13. f4 Qe7 14. h4 Re8 15. h5 Nh8 

3. Nc3

3… d5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 h6 7. Bf4 O-O 8. a3 Bd6 9. Bg3 Bxg3 10. hxg3 b6 11. b4 dxc4 12. Bxc4 Bb7 13. O-O Ne7 

3… d5 4. Nf3 e6 5. e3 Be7 6. a3 O-O 7. Qc2 b6 8. cxd5 exd5 9. Bd3 Bb7 10. O-O Re8 11. b4 Bd6 12. Nb5 a6 13. Nxd6 cxd6 14. Nh4 g6 15. f3 b5 16. Rd1 

3… d5 4. Nf3 e6 5. cxd5 exd5 6. Bg5 Be7 7. e3 h6 8. Bh4 O-O 9. Bd3 Ne8 10. Bg3 Bd6 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. h3 Ne7 13. O-O Qd8 14. b4 c6 15. b5 cxb5 16. Nxb5 Bf5 17. Bxf5 

3… d5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 O-O 7. Rc1 h6 8. Bh4 Ne4 9. Bxe7 Nxe7 10. Qc2 Nxc3 11. Qxc3 b6 12. c5 a5 13. Bd3 Ba6 14. O-O Bxd3 15. Qxd3 a4 

3… d5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 h6 7. Bf4 Bd6 8. Bg3 O-O 9. a3 Bxg3 10. hxg3 b6 11. b4 dxc4 12. Bxc4 Bb7 13. O-O Ne7 14. Qc2 c5 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. Rfd1 Qc8 

What is the best counter to the Black Knights’ Tango?

3. Nf3 is generally considered the best response to 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6, though 3.Nc3 is also a quality move.

My Secret Weapon: The MEXICAN DEFENSE | Dubai Rapid Chess Round 1

History of the Black Knights’ Tango

The Black Knights’ Tango is a relatively recent development in chess history. It gained the name “Mexican Defense” because it was popularized by Mexican Grandmaster Carlos Torre Repetto (of Torre Attack fame) in the 1920s.

However, it did not become widely known until the late 20th century when some top-level players, including Hungarian Grandmaster Peter Leko, began to incorporate it into their repertoires.

Whether the Mexican Defense Is Good for Beginners or Intermediates

The Black Knights’ Tango can be a reasonable choice for both beginners and intermediate players, though for different reasons.

For beginners, the simplicity of developing the knights before the pawns can make the opening easier to understand and apply.

However, the opening requires an understanding of hypermodern principles and the ability to react to various White setups, which makes it a beneficial learning tool for intermediate players seeking to broaden their understanding of opening principles and strategy.

How Often the Black Knights’ Tango Played at the Grandmaster Level

The Black Knights’ Tango is not a common choice at the grandmaster level.

This is primarily due to its reactive nature, which can allow a well-prepared opponent to secure a small advantage with accurate play.

However, it is occasionally seen in high-level games, often as a surprise weapon or to throw an opponent off more common and well-prepared lines.

Grandmasters who have used the Tango include Peter Leko and Alexander Morozevich, though it forms a relatively small part of their opening repertoire.

FAQs – Black Knights’ Tango (Mexican Defense)

1. What is the Black Knights’ Tango (Mexican Defense) chess opening?

The Black Knights’ Tango (also known as the Mexican Defense) is a lesser-known but interesting chess opening that begins with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6.

It is characterized by the uncommon early development of Black’s knights in response to the Queen’s Pawn Opening.

Despite not being among the most popular openings, it can lead to complex positions and interesting tactical opportunities.

2. Why is it called the Black Knights’ Tango?

The name ‘Black Knights’ Tango’ is derived from the early, coordinated movement of Black’s knights in the opening.

The term ‘Tango’ is often used to describe openings that involve coordinated, dance-like movements of the pieces.

In this case, it specifically refers to the way in which Black’s knights work together to control key central squares.

3. What are the main strategic ideas behind the Black Knights’ Tango?

In the Black Knights’ Tango, Black aims to control the center with their knights while also keeping options open for pawn deployment.

The knights on f6 and c6 can exert control over the d4 and e5 squares, making it more difficult for White to establish a broad pawn center.

Furthermore, the opening allows for a variety of pawn structures, providing Black with flexibility in terms of the middlegame plans.

4. How does the opening usually develop after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6?

Following 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6, White typically continues with 3.Nf3, putting additional pressure on the center and preparing for kingside castling.

Black may then play 3…e6, preparing to fianchetto the dark-squared bishop with …b6 and …Bb7 or alternatively preparing for …d5 to challenge White’s control of the center.

The game might continue 3.Nf3 e6 4.a3 (preparing to expand on the queenside with b4) …d5, leading to a balanced and complex position.

5. How does the Black Knights’ Tango compare to more traditional defenses to 1.d4, such as the Nimzo-Indian or King’s Indian?

The Black Knights’ Tango can be considered more unorthodox than the traditional defenses to 1.d4.

Unlike the Nimzo-Indian or King’s Indian, where Black aims for a quick fianchetto of the bishop, the Black Knights’ Tango focuses on immediate knight development.

This can lead to unique and less explored positions, which may be an advantage if your opponent is not well-prepared for this opening.

6. Are there any famous games played with the Black Knights’ Tango?

While the Black Knights’ Tango is not as commonly seen in top-level chess as some other openings, there have been several notable games where it has featured.

Grandmaster Alexei Shirov, known for his aggressive and imaginative play, has used it on occasion.

However, the opening is generally more common in club play than at the grandmaster level.

7. What are the main pitfalls or risks in the Black Knights’ Tango for Black?

One potential pitfall of the Black Knights’ Tango is the vulnerability of Black’s knights to early attacks from White’s pawns.

For example, after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6, the move 3.d5 can attack the knight on c6, potentially leading to an advantage in space for White.

Additionally, the lack of immediate pawn control in the center can sometimes allow White to seize a large spatial advantage.

8. Is the Black Knights’ Tango suitable for beginner players?

The Black Knights’ Tango can be a good choice for beginner players looking for an offbeat and flexible system against 1.d4.

It’s less theoretical than many other openings, which means beginners won’t have to memorize as much opening theory.

However, because it can lead to complex and unconventional positions, beginners choosing this opening should also be prepared to study and understand the resulting middlegame structures and plans.

9. How can I study and improve my play in the Black Knights’ Tango?

Studying master games where the Black Knights’ Tango was played can be very beneficial.

It can also be helpful to practice the opening in online or club games and review these games afterward to understand your mistakes.

Furthermore, there are books and online resources dedicated to this opening that can provide more detailed analysis and study material.

Chess software and databases can also provide in-depth analysis of various lines within the Black Knights’ Tango.

10. What are some variations in the Black Knights’ Tango, and how do they differ?

Some of the key variations in the Black Knights’ Tango depend on White’s response to Black’s setup.

The two main continuations for White are 3.Nc3 and 3.Nf3. After 3.Nc3, Black can choose between 3…e5, immediately challenging the center, or the more restrained 3…d6, aiming for a setup similar to the Old Indian Defense.

On the other hand, after 3.Nf3, Black can opt for a quick …d5 or go for a more flexible setup with …e6, with plans to fianchetto the dark-squared bishop.

Each of these variations can lead to different types of middlegame structures and strategies.


The Black Knights’ Tango, while not as popular as many other defenses to 1.d4, offers a unique and flexible approach to the opening phase of the game.

It blends simple development with a hypermodern approach to the center, challenging traditional opening principles and offering ample opportunity for creativity.


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