In Luis Suarez's first match with Chelsea since April's infamous bite on Branislav Ivanovic which earned him a 10-match ban, Jose Mourinho's side deprived the prolific striker of scoring opportunities and took full advantage.
The Blues responded from going behind to with a brilliant Eden Hazard strike and a rare striker's goal.
Samuel Eto'o showed a goal-poacher's instinct to decide the game with his third Premier League goal of the season - and just the sixth by a Chelsea striker.
Liverpool hit the bar through Mamadou Sakho and might have had a penalty when John Terry clumsily clambered over Suarez in the box; although Hazard also had justifiable claims for a first-half spot-kick dismissed by referee Howard Webb.
Suarez had another penalty claim denied when Eto'o tripped him off the ball as Chelsea held on to move two points behind leaders Arsenal in third place. Liverpool are six points off the pace at the halfway stage of the season.
Mourinho enjoyed a famous rivalry with Liverpool in his first spell, but Chelsea's recent record against the Reds has been poor as they recorded just a third win in 14 Premier League games between the sides, with the Portuguese achieving victory over Brendan Rodgers, one of his former apprentices.
Mourinho's previous duels with Liverpool came against Rafael Benitez, who he has made numerous veiled barbs towards since succeeding the Spaniard at Chelsea.
Mourinho insisted he would not deploy David Luiz in midfield, but he did just that in a side showing four changes in a bid to stifle the attacking threat of Liverpool, particularly Suarez, who had scored 19 goals in his previous 13 Premier League games this term.
Chelsea captain John Terry made his 600th Chelsea appearance, while Daniel Agger was the Reds' sole change following the loss at Manchester City.
The Reds led when Suarez got in front of Ivanovic to meet Philippe Coutinho's free-kick. The ball hit Ivanovic and broke for Skrtel to tap in.
Conceding early roused Chelsea into action in a high-tempo, end-to-end contest.
Hazard forced Simon Mignolet to save before going down in the box under the challenge of Lucas Leiva, who was fortunate not to concede a penalty.
Mignolet was at full stretch to turn over a Frank Lampard shot from 25 yards which appeared destined for the top corner - but the Belgian goalkeeper was beaten by a brilliant shot from his compatriot Hazard moments later.
Oscar drove through the middle and his attempted pass bounced off Sakho into Hazard's path - and he hit a curled effort into the top corner.
Chelsea were now on top, but still had to be alert at the back and Gary Cahill made a brilliant tackle to deny Joe Allen.
Ivanovic's reunion with Suarez lasted less than half an hour after the Serbia right-back's left leg over-stretched after he collided with Agger, with Cole replacing him and Cesar Azpilicueta moving to right-back.
Azpilicueta was involved in the move which took the Blues ahead, making an over-lapping run before Oscar crossed towards Eto'o - who got in front of Skrtel to poke in beyond Mignolet.
Cech saved from Allen before the half-time whistle and a truce in proceedings which saw Eto'o and Sakho and Oscar and Coutinho swap shirts.
Lampard was replaced by John Obi Mikel as Mourinho made his second change in a breathless encounter.
Sakho hit the bar with a looping header after being found by Jordan Henderson before Mignolet saved from Eto'o.
Suarez volleyed straight at Cech after tangling with Mikel to earn his first shooting chance of the game and then went down in the box after competing for an aerial ball with Terry, with Webb unmoved.
Oscar curled narrowly wide after dispossessing Lucas and Hazard shot off target either side of Cech turning a Johnson effort round the post.
Then Eto'o needlessly tripped Suarez off the ball - but again Webb dismissed Liverpool complaints.
Fernando Torres replaced Eto'o and immediately ran at the Reds, cutting in from the touchline before forcing Mignolet to save.
Brazil team-mates Lucas and Oscar were involved in an angry exchange in stoppage time after the Chelsea man's tackle left his side defending a free-kick.
Suarez scored in the 97th minute in April and when a late set-piece went the visitors' way, Mignolet went up for the set-piece - but on this occasion there was no late equaliser.