How To Play the Fried Liver Attack

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Table of Contents

The Two Knights Defense is a good choice for black, but it does allow white to play the Fried Liver Attack. Although extremely dangerous, this is not a one-sided attack for white.

As you will learn Black has a number of ways to meet this attack. Learn how to play the Fried Liver Attack with white and defend against it with black.

The Fried Liver Attack: Things to Remember

  • The Fried Liver Attack is an attacking option for White against the Italian Game: Two Knights Defense and is still played at the highest level today.
  • Many players with the black pieces will struggle to find the best defense over the board.
  • The best advice for Black is never to play 4…d5 and 5…Nxd5. Pretend this line doesn’t exist.
  • Although 4…d5, and 5…Na5 is considered the Main Line and best defense for Black, don’t discount the Fritz Variation.
  • For players blessed with a prodigious memory and a love affair with tactics, you can turn the tables on White with the Traxler Counter-Gambit.

Learn to Play the Fried Liver Attack

Welcome to the tactical minefield that is the Two Knights Defense, and in particular, the Fried Liver Attack. This opening is one of the classics for 1.e4 players and part of the Italian Game.

The Fried Liver Attack forces Black to counter-attack if he is to have any chance of reaching a good position.

There are plenty of sacrifices, gambits, counter-gambits, and tactics for both sides to choose from, but then again, you didn’t select the Two Knights Defense looking for a quiet positional game. Both players need to be well-prepared to play the Fried Liver Attack from either side.

Although the Fried Liver Attack is played by White, you needn’t feel bad about your chances with the Black pieces. Black scores his own impressive victories in this opening and has two excellent defenses.

this video is from the Tournament Ready: The Opening course by GM Daniel King, WFM Sarah Longson & UK Chess Challenge

In this article, we will cover:

  • fundamental ideas for both sides in the Fried Liver Attack,
  • the Fritz Variation with 5…Nd4
  • the Fried Liver Attack with 5…Nxd5,
  • a pawn sacrifice by Black against the Fried Liver Attack with 5…Na5,
  • the amazing Traxler Counter-Gambit,
  • and address some frequently asked questions.

Fundamental Ideas for Both Sides in the Fried Liver Attack

The Fried Liver Attack is part of the Italian Game chess opening and begins after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nc6 4.Ng5

4.Ng5 introduces the Fried Liver Attack of the Two Knights Defense

Like Scholar’s Mate, the aim of this attack is to attack Black’s weakest pawn at the start of a game – f7. Although White moves the same piece twice in the opening, he forces Black to make concessions to fend off the attack.

Black’s best defenses usually involve blocking the bishop’s attack on f7 with …d5 when the d5-square is generally occupied with a pawn of either color.

Nowadays, the most popular defense for Black is 4…d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6

The popular 4...d5 and 5...Na5 variation where Black sacrifices a pawn for the initiative.

when White usually plays one of two bishop retreats:

  1. 8.Be2
  2. 8.Bd3

Black Must Be Cautious With …Nxd5

After 4…d5 5.exd5 Nxd5

5...Nxd5 plays into White's hands in the Fried Liver Attack.

the point of White’s attack is revealed with 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6

The knight sacrifice on f7 has driven the king to the center of the board where it is extremely exposed.

This is the only way for Black to defend his knight, but it places the knight in an absolute pin. Naturally, White’s best approach is to take advantage of the pin by putting additional pressure on the pinned piece with 8.Nc3!

The only time it’s safe for Black to play …Nxd5 is after the bishop has moved away from the a2-g8 diagonal.

Black can uproot the bishop from this diagonal with either …b5 or …Na5. The b5 advance is the idea behind the Fritz Variation.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nd4 6.c3 b5

Black can attack the bishop with either ...Na5 or ...b5. Attacking the bishop with the pawn leads into the Fritz Variation.

The Fritz Variation is a viable option for Black players who want to take their opponent into unfamiliar territory and avoid all the theory of 5…Na5. 8…Ne6 is the crucial move to remember, after which Black has achieved equality.

Another variation that remains playable for Black is the Traxler Counter-Gambit. Although not played very much today, it is still sound. This is the perfect variation for players who love complications and positions rich in tactics.

Black ignores the attack on f7 and counters with an attack on f2 by playing 4…Bc5. This variation is obviously not for the fainthearted.

In the Traxler Counter-Gambit black prepares to play a sacrifice of his own.

Fried Liver Attack 5…Nxd5

Taking back the pawn with the knight is what every player with the White pieces hopes Black will play. This is where we get to see the power of the Fried Liver Attack at its very best.

Unless Black intends to play hope chess and hopes White messes up the attack, it is best not to play 5…Nxe5.

The Fritz Variation would be a much better choice, or if you enjoy dynamic, razor-sharp positions, consider playing the Traxler Counter-Gambit.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7!

Against 5...Nd5 the idea behind the Fried Liver Attack become clear.

Black’s queen and rook are under attack giving him no choice but to accept the sacrifice. Now White gets to bring out his pieces with tempo.

6…Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3 Ne7 9.0-0 c6 10.d4 Kd6

The exposed nature of the black king gives White ample compensation for the sacrificed knight.

The Black is far too exposed to survive for any length of time. Surprisingly this line has been played by players rated 2600 Elo.

Despite a rating of 2602 Elo Agdestein was unable to last more than 26 moves.

Instead of 8…Ne7 Black can try 8…Nb4, but this doesn’t pose much of a challenge to White either.

The Fritz Variation

This variation is named after the German Master Aleksander Fritz. He wrote an article about it in 1904.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nd4 6.c3 b5

Black can attack the bishop with either ...Na5 or ...b5. Attacking the bishop with the pawn leads into the Fritz Variation.

In the Fritz Variation, the best retreat for White is 7.Bf1, because 7.Bd3 allows easy equality with 7…Bf5 8.Bxf5 Nxf5 9.Qf3 Qd7. Of course, 7.Be2 allows Black to capture the bishop with 7…Nxe2, and he gets a good position after 8.Qxe2 Qxd5.

The critical move for Black to remember in the Fritz Variation is 8…Ne6.

This position is reached after 7.Bf1 Nxd5 8.Ne4 Ne6 and gives Black equality.

The key move for black in the Fried Liver Attack Fritz Variation is 8...Ne6.

The following two games give you ideas on how to play the Fritz Variation with either side.

White Plays 8.Be2

For those players with the Black pieces looking for more than equality, this is a sound way to defend against the Fried Liver Attack.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5

5...Na5 is the modern way of meeting the Fried Liver Attack. Black sacrifices a pawn for the initiative.

Before retreating his bishop, White decides to play actively and win a pawn with 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2

8.Be2 is the safest retreat for the bishop in the 5...Na5 variation.

The e2-square is a much safer square than d3 for the bishop, even if it is somewhat limiting. Almost every move in chess requires some give or take unless you’re delivering checkmate.

After 8.Be2 the game usually proceeds with 8…h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5

Black has compensation for the sacrificed pawn in open lines for his bishops and lead in development.

In this position, Black has two main moves 10…Bd6 and 10…Bc5.

The main line is 10…Bd6 11.d4 exd3 12.Nxd3 Qc7 13.b3

In this position both sides can play for a win.

This leads to a complicated middlegame with chances for both sides. Although 13…0-0 is the main move, Black might be better of playing the second most popular move 13…c5, as the game between Kantorik and Jirka shows.

White Plays 8.Bd3

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Bd3

This is a much riskier choice for White than 8.Be2 because the bishop is more exposed on d3.

White sometimes retreats the bishop to d3, but this leaves it exposed to attack after back plays…Nd5-f4. Kasparov wasted no time implementing this maneuver in his games against Short in 2011.

The Traxler Counter-Gambit

We have the Czech chess player Karel Traxler to thank for introducing this fantastic counter-gambit to the chess world. Traxler used it in the 1890s, and it hasn’t changed much over the past one-hundred-and-thirty years.

The Traxler Counter-Gambit is theoretically sound, but it is an opening for players that really enjoy tactics. A good memory also helps when you are considering sacrificing a rook and need to know your theory.

Strangely enough, the more restrained Bxf7+ is a better option for White than the more enticing Nxf7 or the third option – d4. At the club level, you are more likely to have the chance to take advantage of your opponent’s greed.

A lot of club players choose the Fried Liver Attack for the opportunity to win material early in the game. When playing with Black against the Fried Liver Attack, it isn’t unreasonable to use this tendency against your opponent.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 brings us to the starting position of the Traxler Counter-Gambit.

In the Traxler Counter-Gambit black prepares to play a sacrifice of his own.

Now White can take a page out of Black’s book and block the bishop with 5.d4, win the rook with 5.Nxf7 or play the more restrained 5.Bxf7+ Ke7 6.Bb3 Rf8 7.0-0.

Simply because Black can equalize is no reason to abandon the Fried Liver Attack with White.

Almost every mainstream opening allows Black a path to equality now, and in the Fried Liver Attack, a single mistake can give your opponent a decisive advantage.

5.d4 Variation of the Traxler Counter-Gambit

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.d4

White mirrors Black's approach and blocks the bishop with 5.d4

One central pawn advance is best met with another, so Black responds in kind with 5…d5 6.Bxd5 Nxd4 7.Bxf7+ Ke7 8.Bc4 b5 9.Bd3 h6 10.Nf3 Ng4

This is an exciting position attacking players will relish.

There remains a lot of play in this dynamic position, but two evenly matched players are likely to play to a draw. This was the result in the game Cvak versus Renard.

5.Bxf7+ Variation of the Traxler Counter-Gambit

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Bxf7+ Ke7 6.Bb3 Rf8 7.0-0 d6

7...d6 is Black's most popular response to 7.0-0

Black’s most popular response to 7.0-0 is 7…d6, to support the pawn on e5 and activate the bishop. When your king is in the center, it’s an excellent idea to exchange queens and reduce your opponent’s attacking potential.

The Qe8-g6-h5 maneuver comes in very useful for Black in helping to safeguard the king from the attack. Being aware of Black’s strategy allows you to keep queens on the board if you are playing with White in the Fried Liver Attack.

As with 5.d4, the 5.Bxf7 variations tend to lead to many drawn games. Still, there are many pieces on the board and every reason to play for the win, with either color.

Play might continue with 8.d3 h6 9.Nf3 Bg4 10.h3 h5

Black can leave the bishop under attack because opening the h-file will prove extremely dangerous for white.

White is a pawn up, and a pawn is a pawn, as many chess players will remind you. However, Black’s position is solid, and he has use of the semi-open f-file.

5.Nxf7 Variation of the Traxler Counter-Gambit

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+

This variation shows the idea behind 4...Bc5 - to counter sacrifice on f2.

White’s two options in this position are unsurprisingly 6.Kf1 and 6.Kf2.

The biggest drawback to 6.Kf1 is it leaves the bishop deep in White’s camp. To gain compensation for the rook, Black must develop his attack at full speed.

A crucial move in aiding his development is …d5 to open a path for the bishop. Don’t waste time recapturing the pawn if you’re playing with the black pieces.

6.Kf1 Qe7 7.Nxh8 d5 8.exd5 Nd4 9.c3 Bg4 10.Qa4+ Nd7

A position is reached that is not for the faint-hearted.

No matter how good your endgame technique is, this is a variation where you win or lose in the middlegame. Unless, of course, you get a lot of help from your opponent.

Our next game serves as a warning to White not to take Black’s lead in development lightly. Notice that 5.Nxf7 does not cause Black to lose castling rights, which proves vital in this game.

White Plays 6.Kxf2

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5 5.Nxf7 Bxf2+ 6.Kxf2

White bravely enters into the spirit of the opening and accepts the gambit with 6.Kxf2

Remarkable as it seems, taking the bishop and rook still does not guarantee White victory against the Traxler Counter-Gambit. Many of us tend to downplay king safety, but games in the Traxler Counter-Gambit certainly prove good reminders to keep your king protected.

6…Nxe4+ 7.Kg1 Qh4 8.g3 Nxg3 9.Nxh8 Nd4 10.hxg3 Qxg3+

In this position Black has a draw by perpetual because the knight on d4 controls the e2 square and prevents the king from escaping.

And Black earned a draw with perpetual check a few moves later. The knight on d4 controls the escape square on e2.

A Modern Approach To A Reliable Old Attack

Even if Black plays the best defense against the Fried Liver Attack, the positions still offer White winning chances. The positions are tricky, with lots of tactics that make for exciting chess games.

However, before you start dazzling your opponents with your attacking skills, it pays to put in a little time ensuring you are well-prepared. This will make sure you don’t get caught by surprise because even though this is the Fried Liver Attack, your opponent has tactics he can unleash too.

Fortunately, being well-prepared is easy thanks to the excellent course “Modernized: The Fried Liver Attack.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Fried Liver Attack a good opening?

Yes, the Fried Liver Attack is a good opening. This chess opening is perfectly playable. The opening provides you with good attacking chances and active piece play, even against the best defense by Black.

How do you survive a Fried Liver Attack?

There are three ways to successfully defend against the Fried Liver Attack. You can gambit a pawn with 5…Na5 6.Bb5 c6, play the Fritz Variation (5…Nd4), or you can sacrifice your bishop on f2. If you prefer to play positional chess more than tactical positions 5…Na5 is the better option for your playing style.

How do you checkmate with the Fried Liver Attack?

Checkmates in the Fried Liver Attack usually involve drawing the Black king away from the shelter of the back rank. When Black plays 5…Nxd5, his king will soon be drawn to the e6-square to defend the knight. White can use the queen to restrict the Black king by controlling ranks and files, while the bishops aid in cutting off diagonals.

Why is it called a Fried Liver Attack?

The name stems from the Italian name for the opening Fegatello Attack. Fegatello is an Italian cooking method where the liver is placed in a net and cooked over hot coals. White’s intention is to render the Black king as dead as a piece of fried liver.

When was the Fried Liver Attack first played?

The earliest game in the database at chessgames.com goes back one hundred and seventy years to 1851. This was a win for Black in only 24 moves.

Is the Fried Liver Attack played by top grandmasters?

Yes, the Fried Liver Attack is played by top grandmasters today. Aronian, Duda, and Jobava have all played this opening within the last two years.

This is not an opening they keep to use only against low-rated opposition either. Aronian’s recent opponents included Ding Liren, rated 2801 Elo in 2021, and Anish Giri, rated 2780 Elo in 2019.

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