If you are a chess enthusiast, you may have heard of a daring opening called the fried liver attack. This is a variation of the Two Knights Defense in which White sacrifices a knight for an attack on Black’s king. It is also known as the Fegatello Attack, which means “dead as a piece of meat” in Italian12.
But why is it called fried liver attack? How did this name come about? And what are the main ideas behind this opening? In this article, we will answer these questions and more.
Here are the main sections of this article:
- History: How did the fried liver attack get its name?
- Theory: What are the main variations and sub-variations of the fried liver attack?
- Conclusion: What are some tips and advice for playing or facing the fried liver attack?
History: How did the fried liver attack get its name?
The fried liver attack has been known for many centuries, dating back to the 16th century Italian masters. The earliest known example of this opening was played by Giulio Cesare Polerio before 1606 against Giovanni Domenico d’Arminio in Rome34.
The name “fried liver attack” comes from an Italian phrase meaning “dead as a piece of liver”. The original phrase was “fegato fritto”, which later became “fegatello”. This was a way of describing what happens to Black’s king in this line: it is cooked like a piece of liver in White’s mating net12.
Some famous examples of games that featured this opening are:
- Polerio vs Domenico, Rome c. 1610
- Greco vs NN, Rome 1620
- Fischer vs Bisguier, New York 1963
- Shirov vs Sulskis, Tromso 2014
Theory: What are the main variations and sub-variations of the fried liver attack?
The fried liver attack begins with the moves:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5?!
This is the Two Knights Defense where White has chosen the aggressive line 4.Ng5, but Black’s last move is risky (5…Na5, the Polerio Defense, is considered better; other Black choices include 5…b5 and 5…Nd4). Bobby Fischer felt that 6.d4! (the Lolli Attack) was incredibly strong, to the point that 5…Nxd5 is rarely played52; however, the fried liver attack involves a knight sacrifice on f7, defined by the moves:
The opening is popular among beginners and attacking players, but experienced players tend to avoid it as Black because it is very dangerous. White has a strong attack, but it has not yet been proven to be decisive. Black has to defend very carefully and precisely to survive.
There are many variations and sub-variations of the fried liver attack, but the main ones are:
- 5…Na5: This is the main alternative to 5…Nxd5, and it avoids the fried liver attack. Black defends the f7-pawn with the knight, and prepares to capture White’s bishop on c4. White can play 6.Bb5+ (the main line), 6.d4 (the Fritz variation), or 6.d3 (the Ulvestad variation).
- 5…Nxd5 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6: This is the main line of the fried liver attack. White checks with the queen and prepares to bring more pieces into the attack. Black has several options here, such as 7…Nb4 (the main line), 7…Nxd5 (the Cunningham Defense), and 7…Nce7 (the Lolli Defense).
- 5…Nxd5 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3 Nb4: This is the main line of the main line. Black moves the knight to b4, attacking White’s c2-pawn and preparing to play …c6, supporting the d5-knight. White can play 9.a3 (the Estrin Gambit), 9.Qe4 (the Kieseritzky Gambit), or 9.O-O (the modern line).
Here are some illustrative examples from master games:
“The Fried Liver Attack is one of those openings that every chess player should know about. It is a very sharp and aggressive opening that can lead to spectacular games.” – Alexey Shirov52
“The Fried Liver Attack is a very old opening that still has a lot of life in it. It is a good weapon for White to surprise Black and create complications on the board.” – Gary Lane16
“The Fried Liver Attack is a very risky opening for both sides. White sacrifices a knight for an attack on Black’s king, but Black has some defensive resources if he knows what he is doing. It is a matter of taste and style whether you want to play or avoid this opening.” – John Emms17
Conclusion: What are some tips and advice for playing or facing the fried liver attack?
We have seen that the fried liver attack is a fascinating opening that involves a lot of tactics and creativity. It is not for the faint-hearted, but it can be very rewarding if you master it.
Here are some tips and advice for playing or facing the fried liver attack:
- If you are White, you should be prepared to sacrifice material and play aggressively. You should also know the main variations and sub-variations of the opening, and how to handle them.
- If you are Black, you should be prepared to defend accurately and patiently. You should also know how to counterattack and exploit White’s weaknesses. Alternatively, you can avoid the fried liver attack by playing 5…Na5 instead of 5…Nxd5.
- If you are not sure about this opening, you can try some alternative openings that can lead to similar positions or ideas, such as the Traxler counterattack or the Lolli attack.
If you want to learn more about the fried liver attack, or other chess openings, you can check out these links:
We hope you enjoyed this article, and learned something new about why is it called fried liver attack. Thank you for reading, and happy chessing!✨
Benjamin Miller is the founder and editor of The Extra Game. He plays chess, scrabble and Monopoly at a masters level. He is a board game enthusiast, publisher, designer, and reviewer with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He loves to share his passion, knowledge, and recommendations for board games with the world.