BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: An increasing number of surgical and radiological observations call Couinaud's concept of eight liver segments into question and such inconsistencies are commonly explained with anatomical variations. This paper was intended to demonstrate that, beyond variability, another anatomical principle may allow to understand supposedly differing concepts on liver segmentation. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The study was performed on 25 portal vein casts scanned by helical CT. The branches of the right and left portal vein and their corresponding territories were determined both anatomically and mathematically (MEVIS LiverAnalyzer, MEVISLab). RESULTS: The number of branches coming-off the right and left portal vein was never 8, but many more (mean number 20, range 9-44). Different combinations of these branches and their respective territories, carried out in this study, yielded larger entities and supposedly contradictory subdivisions (including Couinaud's eight segments), without calling upon anatomical variability. CONCLUSIONS: We suggest the human liver to be considered as corresponding to 1 portal venous territory at the level of the portal vein, to 2 territories at the level of the right and left branch of the portal vein, and to 20 at the level of the rami of the right and left branch. This "1-2-20-concept" is a rationale for reconciling apparent discrepancies with the eight-segment concept. On a pragmatic level, in cases in which imaging or surgical observations do not fit with Couinaud's scheme, we propose clinicians not to autonomically conclude to the presence of an anatomical variation, but to become aware of the presence of an average of 20 (and not 8) second-order portal venous territories within the human liver.