On “Sesame Street,” the beloved PBS kids’ show, Bert is the best friend and roommate of the naive and mischievous Ernie. He was Ernie’s counterpart.
In the pickleball dictionary and on the pickleball court, the “Bert” is the counterpart to the “Erne,” an advanced and rarely-attempted maneuver intended to allow a player to hit the ball close to the net for a put-away.
What is an Erne – A Recap
If you don’t know what an Erne is, you might want to pause here and check out Erne In Pickleball: Who, What, and How? for a good description of the basics of the shot and How To Setup An Erne In Pickleball for additional information about strategy.
In simplest terms, an Erne happens when a player volleys a ball right up at the net by avoiding contact with the non-volley zone.
The player may either jump over the non-volley zone (without touching the kitchen line) or otherwise establish themselves outside the sidelines (and out of bounds) in order to hit an attackable ball out of the air as soon as it crosses the net.
As long as the player avoids setting foot in the non volley zone or stepping on the kitchen line, nothing about the move is illegal.
It is effective because it surprises the opponent and, if executed correctly, results in a nearly unreturnable shot.
The Erne is an advanced, opportunistic shot that does not happen very often. Appropriately, its counterpart is even rarer.
Let’s take a look at exactly what is a Bert in pickleball.
What is a Bert in Pickleball?
Basically, a bert is just like an erne except it is executed on your partner’s side of the pickleball court.
That’s right, the bert involves a player actually crossing the court into your partner’s half to perform a maneuver which avoids the non volley zone and slams the ball right at the net at a sharp angle down to the opponents’ feet.
As you can imagine, this leaves the striking player’s side of the court and most of the middle completely uncovered, which means that if the move is unsuccessful it can lead to an easy loss of a point or rally.
Why Would You Use the Bert?
Like the erne, the whole point of the bert is to be able to get closer to the net when volleying the ball.
The big advantage to the shot is the element of surprise; few if any pickleball players are continually on the lookout for such a high-risk tactic.
Here are some other reasons you might want to try a bert.
Your Partner is Being Targeted
However you feel about this tactic, many players will target the weaker of their opponents in order to gain a strategic advantage in the game.
If your partner is less experienced than you are, identifying and capitalizing on a Bert opportunity can frustrate your opponents’ attempt to attack them, as well as make them think twice about doing it again.
it favors your forehand
This is especially important when one player is right-handed and the other is left-handed.
Presented with the right attackable shot, which usually means a high dink near the sideline, the player who could slam the ball from their dominant side could capitalize on the opportunity by running across the court and jumping the non volley zone.
How to Hit a Bert
Hitting a bert is just like hitting an erne, except you have more ground to cover to get to the ball.
For example, if you are on the left side of the court you will have to cross in front of your partner to get near the right-hand sideline. You can then either jump the nonvolley zone to hit the shot or you can try to run past the sideline and establish your feet out of bounds before volleying the pickleball back to your opponent.
Above all, you must be quick! The opportunity for a bert arises in a split second and fades just as quickly.
Patience and close observation of your opponents’ game is key to identifying and exploiting the weak shots that you can spring across the pickleball court and put away.
If you are on the serving team, you can gain an advantage in tempo if you serve the ball deep. If you can keep your opponents back at the baseline, you give yourself more time to move up to the non volley zone where you can start looking for opportunities to set up a bert on your partner’s side of the court.
Avoid these 4 Mistakes When Hitting a Bert
Tip 1: Look Out For Your Partner!
This probably sounds obvious, but don’t run into your partner!
The decision to pull out a bert comes suddenly and without warning. If your partner is not ready for your unexpected strategic poach they may not even realize you are coming across the court.
It’s usually best if you discuss before the game the possibility of you sprinting over for a bert so that at least you are both ready for it should the opportunity present itself.
Lack of communication and awareness between partners could risk collision and even injury, so make sure you are both on the same page about bert opportunities when the game starts.
Tip 2: Watch Your Toes
Don’t step on the kitchen line. Duh.
But seriously, even the lightest brushing of your toe across the non volley zone line constitutes a fault and will make all your planning and efforts futile.
So as you come across the court be sure to start your jump well inside the kitchen line.
Remember, you can always jump or run a bit further if necessary, but once your foot touches that line you have committed a fault and the rally is over.
Tip 3: Think Ahead
Be aware of your opponents’ shot choices and be ready for a shot that favors the bert.
You are looking for a soft dink that comes across the net near your partner’s sideline that is high enough to attack.
The more you can observe and anticipate the type of shots your opponent will hit, the better your chances of springing a bert and ending the rally or winning the point quickly.
Tip 4: Don’t Telegraph Your Move
Being too eager to pull out a bert can affect your body language.
Just as you should observe your opponents’ position and shot selection, so too should you expect them to observe and analyze yours.
If you feint or make a false-start toward a ball you thought you could return with a bert, you are sending subtle signals to your opponent of what you are trying to do.
The same goes for shuffling toward your partner’s side of the court before the right shot presents itself, and even watching your partner’s sideline too closely. These “tells” can give away your plans and communicate to your opponent that you are actively looking for an opportunity.
And guess what they will do when they perceive your intentions? That’s right, they will try even harder to deny you the perfect shot to hit.
The bert is not a shot that anyone, especially recreational players, could or should ever aspire to truly master. It is a maneuver born of opportunity, quick thinking, and skill.
The chance to hit a bert does not come often, and the successful execution of one happens even less frequently.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have fun trying to expand your pickleball shot arsenal by knowing about and being aware of the bert.
So keep your eyes open, be ready for anything from your opponent, and leave yourself more options before committing to this cross-court maneuver.
If you keep these tips in mind, you might just get the chance to hit the perfect bert the next time you’re on the pickleball court!