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# Optimistic PAC Reinforcement Learning: the Instance-Dependent View

*Proceedings of The 34th International Conference on Algorithmic Learning Theory*, PMLR 201:1460-1480, 2023.

#### Abstract

Optimistic algorithms have been extensively studied for regret minimization in episodic tabular Markov Decision Processes (MDPs), both from a minimax and an instance-dependent view. However, for the PAC RL problem, where the goal is to identify a near-optimal policy with high probability, little is known about their instance-dependent sample complexity. A negative result of Wagenmaker et al. (2022) suggests that optimistic sampling rules cannot be used to attain the (still elusive) optimal instance-dependent sample complexity. On the positive side, we provide the first instance-dependent bound for an optimistic algorithm for PAC RL, BPI-UCRL, for which only minimax guarantees were available (Kaufmann et al., 2021). While our bound features some minimal visitation probabilities, it also features a refined notion of sub-optimality gap compared to the value gaps that appear in prior work. Moreover, in MDPs with deterministic transitions, we show that BPI-UCRL is actually near instance-optimal (up to a factor of the horizon). On the technical side, our analysis is very simple thanks to a new “target trick” of independent interest. We complement these findings with a novel hardness result explaining why the instance-dependent complexity of PAC RL cannot be easily related to that of regret minimization, unlike in the minimax regime.