Online Learning in Periodic Zero-Sum Games

A seminal result in game theory is von Neumann's minmax theorem, which states that zero-sum games admit an essentially unique equilibrium solution. Classical learning results build on this theorem to show that online no-regret dynamics converge to an equilibrium in a time-average sense in zero-sum games. In the past several years, a key research direction has focused on characterizing the day-to-day behavior of such dynamics. General results in this direction show that broad classes of online learning dynamics are cyclic, and formally Poincar\'{e} recurrent, in zero-sum games. We analyze the robustness of these online learning behaviors in the case of periodic zero-sum games with a time-invariant equilibrium. This model generalizes the usual repeated game formulation while also being a realistic and natural model of a repeated competition between players that depends on exogenous environmental variations such as time-of-day effects, week-to-week trends, and seasonality. Interestingly, time-average convergence may fail even in the simplest such settings, in spite of the equilibrium being fixed. In contrast, using novel analysis methods, we show that Poincar\'{e} recurrence provably generalizes despite the complex, non-autonomous nature of these dynamical systems.

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