Fried Liver Attack – How to Play This Aggressive Chess Opening

Fried Liver Attack - The Ultimate Guide

Every beginner should know the Fried Liver Attack in chess. It’s not only one of the most fascinating and common chess openings frequently played in scholastic chess but also a potent opening weapon used by grandmasters because finding a good Fried Liver Attack defense isn’t easy.

For this reason, this article is designed to provide you with all you need to know about the Fried Liver Attack variations in a nutshell.

If you’re a beginner (rated below 1300 Elo) and know the Fried Liver Attack in chess, you’ll score countless quick and easy wins right out of the opening. 

Moreover, by playing the Fried Liver Attack, you’ll also get familiar with plenty of crucial chess concepts essential for any aspiring club player, such as making dynamic sacrifices, knowing how to play with the initiative, the art of attack defense, and a lot more.

Before diving right into this opening, here is GM Gregory Kaidanov to give you a detailed introduction to the Fried Liver Attack variations.

Fried Liver Attack Must-Know Variations

Like every opening the Fried Liver Attack has variations and alternative move orders you must know to play the opening successfully. The variations covered are:

The Anti-Fried Liver Attack – 3…h6

Traxler Counter-Gambit – 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5

Fried Liver Attack – 5…Nxd5 (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5)

Fried Liver Attack – 5…Na5 (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5)

Quenstions & Answers about the Fried Liver Attack

1.) How do you stop a Fried Liver Attack?

The most reliable defense for Black against the Fried Liver Attack is to sacrifice a pawn on c6 in the variation 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6. Even playing the best defense doesn’t give Black easy equality.

2.) Why is the fried liver called the fried liver?

The name Fried Liver Attack comes from the Italian name of this opening – Fegatello Attack. Fegatello refers to cooking liver in a net over hot coals.

3.) How do you counter Traxler?

There’s no doubt the best way to counter Traxler is to take up the challenge. Black believes his counter-sacrifice is as dangerous or more dangerous than our attack.

White can capture on f7 with either the bishop or the knight and get an excellent position.

4.) How do you checkmate with the Fried Liver Attack?

In the Fried Liver Attack, the Black king is drawn forward and away from any pawn cover. White makes use of his lead in development to encircle the king and capture it in a mating net.

5.) What does fried liver mean in chess?

In the Fried Liver Attack chess opening the term “fried liver” is a reference to White’s strategy. White attacks with the intention of leaving the Black king as dead as a piece of fried liver.

6.) What is an anti Fried Liver Attack defense?

Because the Fried Liver Attack is extremely dangerous Black will try to prevent it from ever getting started by playing …h6 before developing his knight to f6. This loss of tempo gives White a small but lasting advantage.

7.) Does the Fried Liver work?

Even against the best defense White gets a good position where Black has compensation for the sacrificed pawn but nothing more.

What’s In a Name?

The name Fried Liver Attack comes from the Italian name of this opening – Fegatello Attack. Fegatello refers to cooking liver in a net over hot coals. In this instance, the name contains both the chess strategy and the goal.

Our strategy is to catch the black king in a mating net and render it “dead as a piece of fried liver.” Although the goal is to follow Fischer’s advice of “Sac, sac, mate.” you will at times need to settle for overwhelming material advantage and resignation from your opponent.

Now that you know what’s in the name, it’s time to learn about the different Fried Liver Attack variations.

What Is the Fried Liver Attack? 

The Fried Liver Attack is an aggressive chess opening for White that starts out of the Italian Game. After the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4, Black has a choice. The two main moves are 3…Bc5 or 3…Nf6.

Fried Liver Attack - The Ultimate Guide

Most beginner players go for the move 3…Nf6 (The Two Knights Defense), which is a sound and solid move for Black.

Fried Liver Attack - The Ultimate Guide
4.Ng5!

However, Black has to be aware of the fact that the move 3…Nf6 allows White to play the move 4.Ng5! (diagram). Most beginner players don’t know what to do after this move. This knight move targets the vulnerable f7-square in Black’s camp.

White immediately threatens to capture on f7, either with the knight or the bishop, and to collect material.

The best move for Black in this position is the move 4…d5! (We’ll warn you of the Traxler Counter Attack, a devilish countergambit for Black which arises after the move 4…Bc5!?

This move is a tricky Fried Liver Attack defense you must be ready to meet.

Successfully Combating the Traxler Counter-Gambit

The Traxler is a Fried Liver Attack defense that you mustn’t take lightly. Alexander G. Beliavsky used it to draw against Anatoly Karpov and defeat Vishy Anand.

In the Traxler counter gambit, Black intends to meet White’s attack and sacrifice on f7 with his own on f2! This strategy involves a dangerous counter gambit for the unwary, but White can proceed with his opening strategy since he is a move ahead.

Remember, “The most dangerous weapon in chess is to have the next move” – David Bronstein.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5!?

Traxler Counter Gambit Starting Position
Traxler Counter Gambit Starting Position

Now White has a choice between capturing on f7 with the bishop or the knight. The bishop capture is the most popular, although, as you will soon learn, the knight capture can prove equally deadly.

5.Bxf7 Ke7 6.Bd5 Rf8 7.0-0 d6 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.Nf3 Bg4 10.d3 Qe8 11.Be3 Qh5 12.Nbd2 Bb6

Traxler Counter Gambit 12...Bb6
Traxler Counter Gambit 12…Bb6

White is a pawn ahead and has a much better pawn structure. The Black is stuck in the center and unable to castle. 

That’s why it isn’t surprising Karen Asrian only needed another 11 moves to win her Game against Ara Minasian.

Asrian, Karen – Minasian, Ara, 1-0, ARM-ch, 2007

5.Nxf7 allows Black to sacrifice his bishop with 5…Bxf2. There follows 6.Kf1 Qe7 7.Nxh8 d5 8.exd5 Nd4 9.d6 cxd6 10.Kxf2

Traxler Counter Gambit 10.Kxf2
Traxler Counter Gambit 10.Kxf2

After 6.Kf1 in the Fried Liver Attack Traxler defense, White has won 71% of the games from this position.

In the next Game, Nikolai Ninov only needed 22 moves to claim victory.

Ninov, Nikolai – Marzolo, Cyril, 1-0, La Fere op 7th, 2008 

Beginners Often Miss 4…Bc5 and 4…d5

Fried Liver Attack

Speaking from experience, many beginner players don’t play the correct moves in the Fried Liver Attack defense-4…d5 and 4…Bc5. Instead, they go for poor moves like 4…Qe7?, 4…h6? or 4…Rg8? All these moves immediately lead to a lost position for Black.

Black’s best move is 5…Na5 (although 5…b5!? and 5…Nd4!? are also playable). But beginners will almost always play 5…Nxd5?!, allowing White to play the crushing Fried Liver Attack chess opening with 6.Nxf7! (diagram).

Fried Liver Attack - The Ultimate Guide

White’s idea is to answer 6…Kxf7 with 7.Qf3+. The queen joins the game with a double attack on the knight on d5 and Black’s king. This check more-or-less forces Black to play 7…Ke6 (the only way to defend the Nd5). Black’s king is in a horrible position now!

White has a great attack after 8.Nc3, followed by a later d2-d4 as the black king has no pawn-shelter.

So, the Fried Liver Attack in chess can only be played if Black isn’t careful enough. But, again, speaking from experience, that will be the case in 9 out of 10 games. The Fried Liver Attack chess opening is one of the most aggressive for White as you will be sacrificing one of your minor pieces very early in the Game. The Black king will be forced into the middle of the board and will be in great danger during the whole Game.

Never Play a Sacrifice Lightly!

Now, as we are familiar with the starting opening moves, we should dive a bit deeper. We should not forget that White has sacrificed a whole piece, and despite all enthusiasm, the position doesn’t win itself.

Unfortunately, we see plenty of beginner chess players who overconfidently go for the Fried Liver Attack but have only learned the first few moves! When they have to make the first move on their own, they have no idea what to do and often come up with wrong moves. 

In these cases, Black soon manages to consolidate his position and makes his extra piece count. For this reason, it’s essential to be familiar with the key attacking ideas and typical patterns whenever you play an opening in which you voluntarily sacrifice material.

See the Fried Liver Attack in action! In this video, GM Larry Christiansen goes over a Fried Liver Attack game played between two GMs. GM Alexei Shirov is the one who chooses to play this hyper-aggressive opening (analysis of this Game starts at 4:35):

A Beginner’s Move Played by Masters

The move 4.Ng5 breaks the opening principles of not moving a piece twice in the opening.

White is also launching an attack before he is fully developed. Most of White’s pieces are undeveloped, and his king is still in the center.

For these reasons, 4.Ng5 is sometimes described as a beginner’s move.

4ng5 a beginners move plated by masters blog image

White is essentially placing a higher value on practicality than prudence

This move causes black to react to the threat against f7, so it’s hard to take advantage of White’s undeveloped pieces. 

Of course, Black isn’t much further ahead in development than white and usually moves his knight on c6 twice. He is likely to do this while playing a pawn sacrifice to boot.

White will usually end up a pawn ahead with no pawn weaknesses of his own. The white knight might be misplaced on g5, but the black knight on a5 is also out of the Game.

The Fried Liver Attack – A Historical Game 

To start with, let’s go for a bit of a journey through time and take a look at this inspirational Game:

More than 150 years ago, in the Romantic Era of Chess, players like Lionel Kieseritzky, who most probably (and sadly) is best best-known nowadays for losing the “Immortal Game” to Adolf Anderssen in 1851, used the Fried Liver Attack to crush their opponents before the games really started:

Kieseritzky, Lionel – Loewenthal, Johann Jacob, London 1851

Wilhelm Steinitz, the first official World Chess Champion, played the Fried Liver Attack with deadly effect.

Wilhelm Steinitz – G Generes, 1883.01.02, 1-0, New Orleans, LA USA

9.Nh3 – The Choice of Two World Champions

The move 9.Nh3 was the move of choice by the first world chess champion Wilhelm Steinitz. He played it in his match against Chigorin.

Since then, Bobby Fischer has also played this move.

fried liver attack 9.nh3
Fried Liver Attack after 9.Nh3

9.Nh3 is played almost as often as 9.Nf3 and has a 6% higher win-rate! This success certainly makes it a move to keep in mind when playing the Fried Liver Attack in chess.

Your opponent will most likely focus more on the mainline with 9.Nf3, making 9.Nh3 a dangerous surprise weapon. Moves like this are likely to take Blackout of his prepared Fried Liver Attack defense.

Play might continue 9…Bd6 10.d3 O-O 11.Nc3 

fried liver attack 9.nh3 and 11.nc3
Fried Liver Attack after 9.Nh3 and 11.Nc3

In this position, White kept his extra pawn and avoided creating any pawn weaknesses. Black is both a pawn down and has isolated pawns on c6 and a7.

Both Ivanchuk and Aronian played 9.Nh3 with success. 

The move 9.Nh3 has been played with success by both Ivanchuk and Aronian. Here is Aronian showing how to play this position against the strong Chinese GM Ding Liren.

When this game was played, GM Ding Liren was rated 2801 and Aronian 2772.

If the Fried Liver Attack can be played at this high level, it is sure to prove a devastating weapon at the club level.

Levon Aronian – Ding Liren, India 2019

fried liver attack aggressive chess opening for white blog image

Why Play The Fried Liver Attack?

A Solid Opening Trap

Opening traps are the easiest way to win in a flashy and quick way. However, you shouldn’t play to only trick your opponent! If you are a one-trick chess player, your opponent only needs to avoid the trap, and then you won’t know what to do!

That’s the reason why, if you want to trap your opponent, you need to study tricky openings with a solid background. The Fried Liver Attack chess opening is one of these aggressive sound openings.

If you study the Fried Liver Attack variations in-depth, you will have a lot of bait to confuse your opponent and a good knowledge of typical ideas if your opponent evades them.

In all Fried Liver Attack Variations, Defending Is Harder Than Attacking

As we’ve seen, Black has to play a Fried Liver Attack defense that requires accurate play to survive the first 15 moves. 

In chess, attacking is easier than defending. When you’re attacking, you can mainly focus on your ideas and plans.

When you’re defending, you always have to react to your opponent’s moves and ideas. This constant vigilance is what makes defending a lot harder than attacking – you can’t focus on your ideas but have to pay a lot more attention to your opponent’s intentions.

It’s vital to notice that the defensive skills of most club players are very weak. Therefore, it makes sense to play an attacking opening.

The Fried Liver Attack – Chess Opening Analysis For Beginners

This section of the article provides you with a deep analysis (backed up by the strongest cloud engines available) of all the crucial Fried Liver Attack variations you need to know when you want to play the Fried Liver Attack with White.

The Fried Liver Attack chess opening starts from the Italian Game and occurs after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5, allowing the powerful 6.Nxf7! After this theoretical sacrifice, White has a crushing attack as the Black king gets very exposed.

Mating Nets in the Fried Liver Attack

As mentioned earlier, the fegatello is a way of cooking liver in a net over the coals. After White has drawn Black’s king forward, you always need to be looking for ways to deliver checkmate.

In the Fried Liver Attack variations, this often happens when White cuts off the king by controlling diagonals and a rank or file. 

White has been successfully checkmating the exposed Black king with the Fried Liver Attack in chess for over a hundred years! John Cochrane used the Fried Liver Attack chess opening to deliver checkmate in 16 moves way back in 1856.

John Cochrane – Bonnerjee Mohishunder, 1-0, Calcutta, 1856

More recently, A McGilvary only needed 14 moves to deliver checkmate against the Fried Liver Attack Traxler defense. This time checkmate is given with a stunning double-check by the White knight and queen.

A McGilvary – Joseph Leopold Weininger, 1-0, 1962

The Game between D Weir and J Messenger lasted a mere 11 moves! Black was caught unprepared and didn’t know how to play any of the Fried Liver Attack defenses accurately.

D Weir – J Messenger, 1-0, 1951, England

The Anti-Fried Liver Attack Variation

Considering how quickly the above games ended, it’s hardly surprising that Black looked to avoid the Fried Liver Attack in chess by playing 3…h6. Even at the cost of a tempo early in the Game, Black thinks it’s prudent to avoid 4.Ng5.

Anti Fried Liver Attack Starting Position
Anti Fried Liver Attack Starting Position

However, as Karjakin and Radjabov showed, this loss of tempo can be costly. White can use this extra tempo to take control of the center with c3, d3-d4. 

In both of these games, White’s centralized pieces proved dominant. There’s little doubt this is not one of Black’s best Fried Liver Attack defenses.

The move 3…h6 effectively puts White two tempi ahead in the Game.

Time is a precious ingredient in all phases of the chess game and something we shouldn’t waste.

Karjakin, Sergey – Mamedyarov, S., 1-0, GCT Rapid Paris 2018

Radjabov, T. – Amin, B., 1-0, World Rapid 2016

The Fried Liver Attack Works Against Black’s Best Defense 4…d5

Even if Black remembers 4…Bc5, and 4…d5, the Fried Liver Attack in chess remains a dangerous weapon for White.

Black’s best Fried Liver Attack defense is 4…d5, and 5…Na5, but the second option involves a pawn sacrifice. That’s why after 4…d5 5.exd5 Black sometimes captures the pawn with 5…Nxd5.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5

Fried Liver Attack 5...Nxd5
Fried Liver Attack 5…Nxd5

This recapture allows White to sacrifice a knight with 6.Nxf7 and after 6…Kxf7 7.Qf3 White gains a strong initiative. 

Take a look at Shirov’s excellent play after 7…Ke6, which is the only way to defend the knight.

Shirov, A. – Sulskis, S., 1-0, 41st Olympiad Open 2014

Black Plays 5…Na5 and Sacrifices a Pawn

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6

Fried Liver Attack 7...bxc6
Fried Liver Attack 7…bxc6

Now White has a choice between two Fried Liver Attack variations with 8.Be2 or 8.Bd3.

Radjabov chose to play 8.Be2 while Aronian went with 8.Bd3.

Radjabov, Teimour – Naiditsch, Arkadij, 1-0, EU-ch 6th, 2005

Aronian, L. – Amin, B., 1-0, World Rapid 2019 

Fried Liver Attack – Conclusion

The Fried Liver Attack chess opening starting in the Italian Game and occurs after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5, allowing the powerful 6.Nxf7! 

After this theoretical sacrifice, White has a crushing attack as the Black King gets very exposed. 

Thousands of beginner chess players around the globe play the Fried Liver Attack. We hope that the deep analysis in this article will give you all the necessary weapons to sacrifice the knight with confidence.

We assure you that you will have all the fun while Black desperately tries to find one defensive move after another. Even with the best play, Black will find it challenging to survive no matter which Fried Liver Attack defense he chooses.

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3 comments on “Fried Liver Attack – How to Play This Aggressive Chess Opening

  1. Lucas G. says:

    Thanks! I could use this against my opponents!

  2. giuseppe bencivenni says:

    video?

  3. Alex Skinner says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the article. Sorry if this question is dim but in the Shirov game you linked, white seems to win without any apparent explanation as to why; they are not even in check. Could you please explain?

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3 comments on “Fried Liver Attack – How to Play This Aggressive Chess Opening

  1. Lucas G. says:

    Thanks! I could use this against my opponents!

  2. giuseppe bencivenni says:

    video?

  3. Alex Skinner says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the article. Sorry if this question is dim but in the Shirov game you linked, white seems to win without any apparent explanation as to why; they are not even in check. Could you please explain?

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