Sample-based Approximation of Nash in Large Many-Player Games via Gradient Descent

Nash equilibrium is a central concept in game theory. Several Nash solvers exist, yet none scale to normal-form games with many actions and many players, especially those with payoff tensors too big to be stored in memory. In this work, we propose an approach that iteratively improves an approximation to a Nash equilibrium through joint play. It accomplishes this by tracing a previously established homotopy that defines a continuum of equilibria for the game regularized with decaying levels of entropy. This continuum asymptotically approaches the limiting logit equilibrium, proven by McKelvey and Palfrey (1995) to be unique in almost all games, thereby partially circumventing the well-known equilibrium selection problem of many-player games. To encourage iterates to remain near this path, we efficiently minimize average deviation incentive via stochastic gradient descent, intelligently sampling entries in the payoff tensor as needed. Monte Carlo estimates of the stochastic gradient from joint play are biased due to the appearance of a nonlinear max operator in the objective, so we introduce additional innovations to the algorithm to alleviate gradient bias. The descent process can also be viewed as repeatedly constructing and reacting to a polymatrix approximation to the game. In these ways, our proposed approach, average deviation incentive descent with adaptive sampling (ADIDAS), is most similar to three classical approaches, namely homotopy-type, Lyapunov, and iterative polymatrix solvers. The lack of local convergence guarantees for biased gradient descent prevents guaranteed convergence to Nash, however, we demonstrate through extensive experiments the ability of this approach to approximate a unique Nash equilibrium in normal-form games with as many as seven players and twenty one actions (several billion outcomes) that are orders of magnitude larger than those possible with prior algorithms.

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