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Generalized Results for the Existence and Consistency of the MLE in the Bradley-Terry-Luce Model

Heejong Bong · Alessandro Rinaldo

Hall E #1116

Keywords: [ T: Learning Theory ] [ PM: Everything Else ] [ T: Probabilistic Methods ]

Abstract: Ranking problems based on pairwise comparisons, such as those arising in online gaming, often involve a large pool of items to order. In these situations, the gap in performance between any two items can be significant, and the smallest and largest winning probabilities can be very close to zero or one. Furthermore, each item may be compared only to a subset of all the items, so that not all pairwise comparisons are observed. In this paper, we study the performance of the Bradley-Terry-Luce model for ranking from pairwise comparison data under more realistic settings than those considered in the literature so far. In particular, we allow for near-degenerate winning probabilities and arbitrary comparison designs. We obtain novel results about the existence of the maximum likelihood estimator (MLE) and the corresponding $\ell_2$ estimation error without the bounded winning probability assumption commonly used in the literature and for arbitrary comparison graph topologies. Central to our approach is the reliance on the Fisher information matrix to express the dependence on the graph topologies and the impact of the values of the winning probabilities on the estimation risk and on the conditions for the existence of the MLE. Our bounds recover existing results as special cases but are more broadly applicable.

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