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Review: Tibhar Bernadette Szocs Signature 1

19 February 2021  | Posted in: Table Tennis Reviews

Tibhar Bernadette Szocs Signature 1 – The little sister of the Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition? 

     Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of 7-ply all-wood blades and use the Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition (SFPBE) as my main competition blade. Needless to say, I was excited to try out Tibhar’s most recent 7-ply offering, i.e., the Bernadette Szocs Signature 1 (BSS1).   

     Tibhar describes the BSS1 as “the ideal weapon for an aggressive and powerful game at the table” and asserts that the combination of hard inner veneers and more delicate outer veneers produce the playing characteristics that the Romanian National Team Member and 2017 T2 APAC Women’s Champion, Bernadette Szöcs, prefers.

     Tibhar assigns speed/control ratings of 8-/8+ to the BSS1 and characterizes it as a high catapult blade that is geared towards advanced players employing an OFF- strategy. In compassion, Tibhar assigns speed/control ratings of 9-/7- to the SFPBE and characterizes it as a high catapult blade for advanced to professional players employing an OFF strategy. In other words, we should expect the BSS1 to be slightly slower and more controllable than the SFPBE. 

      The BSS1 arrives covered in shrink-wrapped plastic inside Tibhar’s black cardboard box. As mentioned, the BSS1 is a 7-ply blade, presumably with a limba/ayous ply composition that is similar to the SFPBE. The relatively thin core (~2 mm) is surrounded by dark brown-colored plies that are slightly thinner (~1.4 mm), followed by a thin penultimate layer and a thin outer ply (combined < 1 mm). After studying the ply compositions of the BSS1 and SFPBE under a cheap microscope, I reached the conclusion that the main difference is in the penultimate ply, which is 20-30% thicker in the SFPBE. The blade’s name is printed on the straw-colored FH playing surface of the blade, whereas the back of the blade is without text. The handle is dark gray with two sets of white-light brown-white stripe combinations running the length of the handle. A rectangular and a smaller circular aluminum lens, sporting the BS1 logo, adorn the FH side and bottom of the handle, respectively, whereas the BH side of the handle is tag-less. 

     The playing surface of the BSS1 has the following dimensions (height x width): 158 mm x 151 mm with a thickness of 6.5 mm. The FL handle has the following dimensions: length ~102.5 mm, width ~26.7-36.3 mm, and height ~23.5-26.0 mm. The build quality of the BSS1 is good, but the edges and handle could have enjoyed more sanding. The blade wings are lightly sanded though. The test specimen weighed 89 g and produced a resonance frequency of 1399 Hz when bouncing a ball on the naked blade, which is similar to that of the SFPBE (1388 Hz).    

Testing Protocol

      I evaluated the BSS1 using a 40-degree DHS Hurricane 3 provincial orange sponge rubber in my FH and Spinlord Waran II short pips in my BH. I attached the rubbers to the blade using Revolution 3 medium viscosity glue. The test setup weighed 180g. I evaluated the set-up over five sessions, playing a series of regular and match-focused drills against my regular high-level practice partner. Nittaku J-Top training balls were used throughout the test. 

Initial Impressions

     The BSS1 is a well-balanced blade with a center of gravity that is shifted towards the head giving it a nimble feel. The upper part of the grip and the wings are on the narrow side, which facilitates a loose grip. The lower part of the FL grip is distinctly flared and provided a comfortable rest for the palm of my hand. The BSS1 might just be the most comfortable blade I have ever tested. 


     The BSS1 produces a crisp feeling on FH drives, but is not as stiff as the SFPBE. It is a notch slower (low OFF) but also slightly springier, which gives the impression of the shots being almost as fast as with the SFPBE. I enjoyed excellent control on FH drives, in part due to the airy feeling that the blade offers. Along similar lines, the BSS1 feels a little thinner and softer than the SFPBE on BH drives with the Waran 2 short pips. However, the shots are almost as fast and more controllable with a greater margin for error.


     The BSS1’s head-tilted center of gravity, the relatively soft nature of its outer ply which extends the dwell time for high spin generation, combined with the slight catapult effect, render this a looper’s blade. The throw angle is higher than with the SFPBE, thus yielding a greater margin for error. While the SFPBE packs more punch on power loops and in FH loop-to-loop rallies, the BSS1 is more refined, allowing for higher consistency and placement control of FH loops. And yet, the blade offers sufficient power to produce effective topspins from mid-distance. Occasionally, I twiddled my regular Hurricane 3 FH rubber into my BH and executed spinny BH loops with surprising safety and high levels of spin, further underscoring BSS1’s value as a looper’s blade. 


     I struggled a little bit with FH flicks, which likely reflects my preference for stiff blades with ultra-crisp contact points for these shots. The BSS1 produces a more muddled feeling compared to the SFPBE. Irrespective of the reasons, a greater-than-usual proportion of my FH flicks overshot the table. In contrast, I enjoyed greater-than-normal consistency on my BH flicks executed with the Waran II short pips, presumably due to the “thinner”, sharper feeling, and moderate OFF pace.     


     During matches, especially when out of position, I tend to tense up on my BH blocks, resulting in an unnecessarily high error rate with the SFPBE. However, when timed correctly, the SFPBE produces brutally fast blocks that are challenging to return. I don’t know it is due to the BSS1’s nimbler feel (allowing for a faster reset), minimally slower speed, less stiff nature, or slightly higher throw angle, but I enjoyed significantly improved consistency on FH and – especially – BH blocks, with minimal speed concessions.

Smashing and Flat Hitting

     While the BSS1 is geared looping, it still allows for the execution of effective FH and – especially – BH smashes. However, the smashes are slower than with the SFPBE. The vast majority of players will find the BSS1 to be plenty fast for smashes, especially if paired with fast rubbers.   

Short Game

     The BSS1 behaves very predictably on pushes. Long pushes can be played deep with a high amount of backspin and excellent control of placement, whereas short pushes can be kept low and short, thus minimizing opportunities for opponents to attack with flicks. Once again, the blade’s balance gave me greater-than-usual confidence in my abilities, allowing me to play pushes with surgical precision, with one exception: low spin pushes hit near the handle, are surprisingly fast since the blade has a large sweet spot.  


     The BSS1’s slightly head-tilted center of gravity works great on pendulum serves allowing for a little bit of additional acceleration at the moment of ball contact, and – accordingly – rendering it a little easier to put additional spin on the ball. The BSS1 is beautifully balanced, allowing me to place my serves with high precision.


     As you have gathered, I am very impressed with the Tibhar Bernadette Szocs Signature 1 blade. More than any other 7-ply blade that I have tried, the BSS1 strikes the “right” balance between power, subtle stiffness, catapult effect, and dwell time, to allow for powerful and controlled looping, a precise short game, and high consistency when blocking. In other words, 7-ply speed with 5-ply control. A wide range of players will enjoy playing with the Tibhar Bernadette Szocs Signature 1, ranging from intermediate players all the way up to professional players. The BSS1 might lack a couple of percent in raw power to become a blade-of-choice for flat hitters, but for those primarily playing close to the table or from mid-distance using loops, this is a great and highly recommended blade. And the best part? Given that this is the Signature 1 blade, there perhaps might be a sequel on the horizon. 




About the Reviewer

     Patrick 'Pong Professor' Hrdlicka is a table tennis enthusiast with a Ph.D. in chemistry who combines his analytical and experimental skills with his love of table tennis in order to test and review a wide range of table tennis equipment.