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Sharp Variance-Dependent Bounds in Reinforcement Learning: Best of Both Worlds in Stochastic and Deterministic Environments

Runlong Zhou · Zhang Zihan · Simon Du

Exhibit Hall 1 #231
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We study variance-dependent regret bounds for Markov decision processes (MDPs). Algorithms with variance-dependent regret guarantees can automatically exploit environments with low variance (e.g., enjoying constant regret on deterministic MDPs). The existing algorithms are either variance-independent or suboptimal. We first propose two new environment norms to characterize the fine-grained variance properties of the environment. For model-based methods, we design a variant of the MVP algorithm (Zhang et al., 2021a). We apply new analysis techniques to demonstrate that this algorithm enjoys variance-dependent bounds with respect to the norms we propose. In particular, this bound is simultaneously minimax optimal for both stochastic and deterministic MDPs, the first result of its kind. We further initiate the study on model-free algorithms with variance-dependent regret bounds by designing a reference-function-based algorithm with a novel capped-doubling reference update schedule. Lastly, we also provide lower bounds to complement our upper bounds.

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