Monday, October 24, 2005

Let's play games

About a month ago I saved a draft on the complexity of games in finite model theory. Suddenly, this morning David Eppstein left a comment on my previous post, which reminded me about this draft. Incidentally, I have been a fan of his recreational math pages, especially the combinatorial game theory page, since two years ago, after taking a course on the theory of computation. Anyway, let's play some games now! The games that we will play are not something I invent myself ;-). They are actually pervasive in finite model theory.

Here is the description. Two graphs G and G', and a natural number k are given. There are two players in this game, Spoiler and Duplicator. They will play for k rounds. In the i'th round (1 ≤ i ≤ k), Spoiler starts by picking a vertex in one of the graphs. Then, Duplicator will have to respond by picking a vertex in the other graph. After k rounds have been played, we obtain the vertices a0, ..., ak of G, and the vertices b0, ..., bk of G'. Duplicator is declared to be the winner if the subgraphs of G and G' that are induced by ai's and bj's are isomorphic. Otherwise, Spoiler wins. By the way, why are the players called Spoiler and Duplicator? If you think about this, Spoiler's goal is to show that the two graphs are not isomorphic (i.e. to spoil), while Duplicator's goal is to show that the two graphs are isomorphic by matching (or "duplicating") each of Spoiler's moves in such a way no difference in the two graphs are revealed. So, Duplicator is the "good" guy, while Spoiler is the "bad" guy. Duplicator has a winning strategy on this game if no matter how Spoiler moves in the i'th round, Duplicator can always find a move that will guarantee a "win" for Duplicator.

The problem is, given G, G', and k, decide whether Duplicator has a winning strategy. Determine its complexity! I will post the solution and some open problems later.

But, let me give you a simple example. Suppose G = Kk and G' = Kk+1. Then, it is easy to see that Duplicator has a winning strategy for the i-round game, where 0 ≤ i ≤ k (why?). However, a moment's thought will reveal that, for any i-round game on G and G' where i > k, Spoiler has a winning strategy. Where G and G' are more complicated structures, it becomes harder to decide whether Duplicator has a winning strategy.

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