A long time ago, I attended a seminar in which Peter Griffin, the late mathematician and author of "The Theory of Blackjack," told the imaginary tale of Mr. Fourteen.

It was Griffin's way of illustrating why the best play on many hands depends on the dealer's up card. His Mr. Fourteen always started with 14 — the casino even painted a 14 hand on his spot at the table. He always stood until he found he was losing too much and switched to always hitting. He lost that

way, too.

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I encounter less extreme versions of Mr. Fourteen at blackjack tables fairly often. Most recently, there was a player at my table in April who always stood on 16.

That's a bad play whenever the dealer shows a 7 or higher, but it's not that unusual. I've seen players who won't hit 15 or 16, and even a few who hit the wall at 12 and stand on any hand that can be busted with one more card.

What made this latest player unusual is that his phobia for hitting 16 extended to soft 16 — hands such as Ace-5 or Ace-3-2 where the Ace is counted as 11.

"At least I'm still in the game," he said when other players tried to show him the light. "Let the dealer take a chance on busting."

An older man tried to point out that he couldn't bust soft 16 with a one-card hit and he can always stand if a hit doesn't improve the hand. Mr. Stand on Sixteen wasn't buying it.

How much does all this standing cost? Let's look at a few examples, with 9-7 and Ace-5 against a dealer's 7, and both hands again vs. a dealer's 10 in a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17.

9-7 vs. 7: If you stand, your average loss is 48.1 cents per \$1 wagered. If you hit, the average loss decreases to 40.8 cents. Hard 16 is a bad start, but hitting can reduce your losses.

Ace-5 vs. 7: If you stand, average losses are 47.4 cents per dollar. Hit, and your soft 16 is nearly a breakeven hand with an average loss of only eight-tenths of a percent. By standing on soft 16, the player at my table turned a nearly neutral hand into just another awful 16.

9-7 vs. 10: This is a much closer call than 9-7 vs. 7, with an average loss of 53.7 cents per dollar wagered if you stand and a slightly better 53.5 cents if you hit. Should a hit give you a standing hand of 17 or better, you'll win more often if the dealer starts with 7 rather than 10.

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Ace-5 vs. 10: The average loss is 54.0 cents if you stand, and that's reduced to 21.0 cents if you hit. The gain isn't as large as when the dealer starts with 7, but cutting loss per dollar wagered from 54 cents to 21 is nothing to sneeze at.

The pattern holds when the dealer has 8, 9 or Ace, too. Your average losses are lower when you hit rather than stand, and you have more to gain by hitting when your 16 is soft.

Patterns are different when the dealer shows 2 through 6. Then it's better to stand on hard 16, while those with soft 16 will want hit vs. 2 and 3 and double down vs. 4, 5, or 6.

Don't hit the wall at 16, like the player at my table did. He had it wrong every time.