Smooth Nash Equilibria: Algorithms and Complexity

Authors Constantinos Daskalakis, Noah Golowich, Nika Haghtalab, Abhishek Shetty

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Constantinos Daskalakis
  • MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA
Noah Golowich
  • MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA
Nika Haghtalab
  • University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA
Abhishek Shetty
  • University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA


This work was done in part while the authors were visiting the Learning and Games program at the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing.

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Constantinos Daskalakis, Noah Golowich, Nika Haghtalab, and Abhishek Shetty. Smooth Nash Equilibria: Algorithms and Complexity. In 15th Innovations in Theoretical Computer Science Conference (ITCS 2024). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 287, pp. 37:1-37:22, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2024)


A fundamental shortcoming of the concept of Nash equilibrium is its computational intractability: approximating Nash equilibria in normal-form games is PPAD-hard. In this paper, inspired by the ideas of smoothed analysis, we introduce a relaxed variant of Nash equilibrium called σ-smooth Nash equilibrium, for a {smoothness parameter} σ. In a σ-smooth Nash equilibrium, players only need to achieve utility at least as high as their best deviation to a σ-smooth strategy, which is a distribution that does not put too much mass (as parametrized by σ) on any fixed action. We distinguish two variants of σ-smooth Nash equilibria: strong σ-smooth Nash equilibria, in which players are required to play σ-smooth strategies under equilibrium play, and weak σ-smooth Nash equilibria, where there is no such requirement. We show that both weak and strong σ-smooth Nash equilibria have superior computational properties to Nash equilibria: when σ as well as an approximation parameter ϵ and the number of players are all constants, there is a {constant-time} randomized algorithm to find a weak ϵ-approximate σ-smooth Nash equilibrium in normal-form games. In the same parameter regime, there is a polynomial-time deterministic algorithm to find a strong ϵ-approximate σ-smooth Nash equilibrium in a normal-form game. These results stand in contrast to the optimal algorithm for computing ϵ-approximate Nash equilibria, which cannot run in faster than quasipolynomial-time, subject to complexity-theoretic assumptions. We complement our upper bounds by showing that when either σ or ϵ is an inverse polynomial, finding a weak ϵ-approximate σ-smooth Nash equilibria becomes computationally intractable. Our results are the first to propose a variant of Nash equilibrium which is computationally tractable, allows players to act independently, and which, as we discuss, is justified by an extensive line of work on individual choice behavior in the economics literature.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Exact and approximate computation of equilibria
  • Theory of computation → Algorithmic game theory
  • Nash equilibrium
  • smoothed analysis
  • PPAD


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