Blackjack is a game based on math and odds. It’s not a game to be played without a strategy, as the correct decisions can significantly reduce the house edge and make the game more profitable for the player.

A blackjack strategy chart is a handy way to keep the right decisions in mind while playing. The chart shows the best course of action for a hand based on the dealer’s up card and your starting total. It can seem overwhelming at first, but with a little practice you’ll be able to consult the chart as you play, making the correct choices more easily.

To create a blackjack strategy chart, go to the Wizard of Odds website and use the pull-down menus to set the playing rules: number of decks, whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17, whether doubles are allowed after splitting, and whether the dealer peeks for blackjack (almost universal in US casinos). Then click Calculate to get the optimal basic strategy. The chart will appear and you can print it out or bring it with you on the casino floor.

The basic strategy was developed in the 1950s by four US Army engineers using simple adding machines to find the best blackjack playing decision for each situation. Since then, many variations of the game have been developed, but all of them have the same fundamentals. In general, you must decide whether to surrender, split, double, or hit, and you must make these decisions in a specific order.

Hitting a hand is the act of asking for another card from the dealer, and you can continue hitting until your cards total 18 or more (bust). The goal of the dealer is to get as close as possible to 21 without going over it. You can ask for another card only when you’re sure that the next one will not cause you to bust and when you are confident that you have a better chance of beating the dealer than he does of getting a better hand.

If you have a weak starting total, you can often increase your bet by as much as 2 times by doubling down. This can be a very profitable option, but you must be careful not to overdo it. You are not guaranteed to win the next hand, and you may lose more than you won in the process.

Some players try to increase their profits by counting cards, a method that can be complicated and time-consuming. By keeping track of the number of cards that have been dealt and adding them to a running count, you can raise your bet when it is appropriate and deviate from the basic strategy when necessary. However, most expert blackjack players recommend against this, as it is too risky to your bankroll. Plus, you should never play blackjack while under the influence of alcohol or after a long day at work. You should be thinking quite clearly in order to make the right decisions.