We’ve all been there, it is that moment of indecision as you open your humidor or browse your favorite cigar retailer: Do I try out a new cigar or go with a cherished stick that I know is good? It is always fun to try new cigars – you never know when you’ll find something amazing. However, we’ve all been let down by cigars (even highly rated ones) and wished we had gone with one we knew and loved.
This problem is so common it even has a formal name: the Explore / Exploit Dilemma. When we stop to think about it, we find that we encounter this problem throughout life, not just when picking a cigar. Do we try a new restaurant, or stick to a favorite? Try a new author, or grab the next release by that writer we love? Where to go on vacation this year? What brand of ____ (fill in the blank) should we buy?
All these questions and more are classic explore / exploit dilemmas. So the real question is, what is the solution? Is there an answer? Yes, there is.
The Explore / Exploit Solution
To explain the answer, we must first understand the classic way this problem is stated. The Explore / Exploit Dilemma is also known as the Multi-Armed Bandit problem. Say you walk into a casino and decided to play the slot machines (known as “one-armed bandits”). Looking down the rows of slot machines, which do you try first? How long do you play it before trying a new one?
In other words, if we hope to win the most money, we want to find the slot machine that has the highest odds of paying out. Since we don’t know which slot machine that is, we need to try some first (explore). Once we’ve tried a few, we can settle on the one that has the highest odds and play that one for a while (exploit). But when do we try a new one? Perhaps the very next one we try has double the odds of winning!
So what’s the solution? You’ve got to start by trying a few to get a “baseline” of odds. What is the average return after trying a handful of slots? Now you have something to compare a new one to. Is it better or worse than the last “best one” you found? If it is better, move to that machine. If it is worse, stay at the one you are on.
But that still doesn’t answer the main question: how long do you stay on your “current best” (aka favorite) machine before trying a new one? The answer depends on how much time you have left. The closer you get to your time to leave, the less time you should spend exploring and instead focus on exploiting.
How Does Explore / Exploit Apply To Cigars?
So back to our original question: what should you do when you go to choose a cigar to smoke – pick a favorite or try a new one? The answer depends partly on how long you’ve been smoking cigars. If you are a relatively newcomer to the joys of cigar smoking, the majority of your time and money should be invested in trying new cigars. A good way to continuously try new cigars is to join a Cigar of the Month Club (here’s our current favorite club).
If you’ve been enjoying cigars for a number of years and you’ve developed preferences for certain shapes, sizes, wrapper types, styles and countries of origin – then you probably won’t spend the majority of your time looking for new cigars. Instead, you’ll balance your personal explore / exploit ratio based on your limiting factor.
For instance, if you were trying to decide on which restaurant to go to for dinner, but you were soon moving to a new city – you’d probably opt to go to one of your favorite restaurants. This way you would know that you’d get a meal you love instead of trying a new restaurant and potentially being disappointed by the meal.
So what’s the limiting factor for smoking cigars? Maybe you can only smoke one or two cigars a week, or maybe your budget only allows you to buy a certain number of cigars a month. Your humidor can only hold so many cigars, do you fill it with favorites or new ones?
The answer: as a veteran cigar smoker, the majority of your time should be spent with your cherished stogies. However, you should always be trying new cigars. You may discover a new favorite. Therefore, if the majority of your time, money and humidor space is dedicated to your favorite smokes – you’ll always find satisfaction when it comes time to savor a cigar.
Never stop exploring, but always have your favorites close by.