Fast and Furious Learning in Zero-Sum Games: Vanishing Regret with Non-Vanishing Step Sizes

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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James Bailey, Georgios Piliouras


We show for the first time that it is possible to reconcile in online learning in zero-sum games two seemingly contradictory objectives: vanishing time-average regret and non-vanishing step sizes. This phenomenon, that we coin ``fast and furious" learning in games, sets a new benchmark about what is possible both in max-min optimization as well as in multi-agent systems. Our analysis does not depend on introducing a carefully tailored dynamic. Instead we focus on the most well studied online dynamic, gradient descent. Similarly, we focus on the simplest textbook class of games, two-agent two-strategy zero-sum games, such as Matching Pennies. Even for this simplest of benchmarks the best known bound for total regret, prior to our work, was the trivial one of $O(T)$, which is immediately applicable even to a non-learning agent. Based on a tight understanding of the geometry of the non-equilibrating trajectories in the dual space we prove a regret bound of $\Theta(\sqrt{T})$ matching the well known optimal bound for adaptive step sizes in the online setting. This guarantee holds for all fixed step-sizes without having to know the time horizon in advance and adapt the fixed step-size accordingly.As a corollary, we establish that even with fixed learning rates the time-average of mixed strategies, utilities converge to their exact Nash equilibrium values. We also provide experimental evidence suggesting the stronger regret bound holds for all zero-sum games.