The Fried Liver Attack is an exciting chess opening involving an early piece sacrifice from white, beginning with 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. Nxf7
Originating from an Italian Game opening, white plays an early Ng5 and takes the f7 pawn, drawing the black king into the center! Many players with black will prefer to avoid allowing the Fried Liver Attack, because this opening is considered very dangerous – white will often obtain a big attack. I cover black’s alternatives to prevent the Fried Liver Attack in my article on the Italian.
After 6…Kxf7 7. Qf3+ , the point of white’s sacrifice is revealed. The black king can’t return to the eighth rank because the knight on d5 is under attack. If white were to win that knight, white would be up material AND have a big attack on the exposed black king!
Black needs to play 7…Ke6 to defend the knight, and after the universal 8. Nc3 (adding pressured to the pinned Knight), we arrive at the true starting position of the Fried Liver Attack:
Black is up a piece for the time being, but the king on e6 is extremely vulnerable.
The Fried Liver is often considered a “trap” that beginners fall into with black, and it’s easy to see why. Each of black’s first five moves appear to be very natural and well-aligned with the opening principles of chess, and yet here they stand with their king on e6!
Yet some black players may choose to enter this line willingly. After all, black is up a piece if black can defend white’s onslaught!
Let’s analyze this position. The knight on d5 is attacked three times and only defended twice, so black must reinforce it. Black’s only two playable moves in this position are therefore the aggressive 8…Nb4 and the more timid 8…Ne7
This is perhaps black’s most ambitious option. Black not only reinforces the d5 knight, but also threatens to fork the white king and rook with …Nxc2.
Two of white’s main options are to calmly defend the c2 pawn with 9. Bc2, and to play the hyper-aggressive 9. a3, dislodging the knight immediately and trying to break through to the black king even at the cost of a rook!
One of white’s most aggressive choices, in the true spirit of the fried liver, is to play 9. a3 – essentially forcing black to make good on his threat! After 9…Nxc2 10. Kd1 Nxa1 11. Nxd5:
Black is up a lot of material, but the e6 king is more exposed then ever. White threatens to unleash a discovered attack by moving the knight.
11… Kd6 has been tried here, but now 12. d4 could be a powerful pawn sacrifice. If black accepts this “free” pawn, then white’s dark-squared bishop will arrive on f4 in the near future, and it’s hard to imagine the black king surviving the full force of the white army.
But black has a surprising defensive option that I only found with the help of computer analysis – 11…Qh4! appears to be a tough nut for white to crack!
The point is that after 12. Nxc7+ Kd7 13. Qf7+ (otherwise black can take the loose bishop on c4 after white grabs the corner rook) 13…Qe7 14. Qxe7+ Bxe7 15. Nxa8 Kd6:
White is up a pawn, but white’s knight is trapped in the corner, whereas the black knight has good chances to escape the corner after black plays …Bf5!
In light of black’s spectacular defensive idea above, this more might be more prudent. White defends the threat to the c2 pawn and prepares to kick the knight away with a later a3 pawn advance.
Black should make use of the respite white has provided them by strengthening the d5 knight with 9…c6. After 10. a3 it looks like black may be in trouble, but black can now play 10…Qf6, offering to give back the extra piece:
White can restore material equality by exchanging queens and then taking the loose knight, but black is okay with this. In an endgame, black might even argue that their centralized king is an asset rather than a liability!
Alternatively, white can pass on the opportunity to recover their material by playing 11. Qe4, with an exciting game to follow.
This could be considered a more stable alternative for black in the Fried Liver Attack. The knight simply reinforces its counterpart on d5 from a square where it cannot easily be kicked away, and black prepares to play …c6 next turn.
White will often respond by castling and trying to open the center to the black king as fast as possible. For example, 9. 0-0 c6 10. d4 Kd6 11. Bg5
Black can try to run the knight back to b8 and maintain their extra piece, but it won’t be easy!
One high-profile game in this line was Zhigalko – Agdestein, World Blitz Championship 2016. This game proceeded 11. Be6 12. Rfe1 exd4 13. Ne4+ Kc7 14. Qg3+. It’s not easy for the white king to find safety, and white managed to win the game.
The Fried Liver Attack is an exciting opening, pitting black’s material advantage against white’s attacking chances.
I would recommend to most players to avoid the Fried Liver Attack with the black pieces, as one wrong move could spell disaster – but if tenacious defense is your thing, then the Fried Liver Attack could be for you! If you want to play the Fried Liver with white, make sure you understand black’s alternatives to avoid this opening, as covered in my article on the Italian.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to sign up in the box below – I’ll send you a free “Move by Move Guide to Chess Thinking” and make sure you never miss new content.