Minimax Regret for Cascading Bandits

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Daniel Vial, Sujay Sanghavi, Sanjay Shakkottai, R. Srikant


Cascading bandits is a natural and popular model that frames the task of learning to rank from Bernoulli click feedback in a bandit setting. For the case of unstructured rewards, we prove matching upper and lower bounds for the problem-independent (i.e., gap-free) regret, both of which strictly improve the best known. A key observation is that the hard instances of this problem are those with small mean rewards, i.e., the small click-through rates that are most relevant in practice. Based on this, and the fact that small mean implies small variance for Bernoullis, our key technical result shows that variance-aware confidence sets derived from the Bernstein and Chernoff bounds lead to optimal algorithms (up to log terms), whereas Hoeffding-based algorithms suffer order-wise suboptimal regret. This sharply contrasts with the standard (non-cascading) bandit setting, where the variance-aware algorithms only improve constants. In light of this and as an additional contribution, we propose a variance-aware algorithm for the structured case of linear rewards and show its regret strictly improves the state-of-the-art.