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Abstract:We revisit the identification of an $\varepsilon$-optimal policy in average-reward Markov Decision Processes (MDP). In such MDPs, two measures of complexity have appeared in the literature: the diameter, $D$, and the optimal bias span, $H$, which satisfy $H\leq D$. Prior work have studied the complexity of $\varepsilon$-optimal policy identification only when a generative model is available. In this case, it is known that there exists an MDP with $D \simeq H$ for which the sample complexity to output an $\varepsilon$-optimal policy is $\Omega(SAD/\varepsilon^2)$ where $S$ and $A$ are the sizes of the state and action spaces. Recently, an algorithm with a sample complexity of order $SAH/\varepsilon^2$ has been proposed, but it requires the knowledge of $H$. We first show that the sample complexity required to estimate $H$ is not bounded by any function of $S,A$ and $H$, ruling out the possibility to easily make the previous algorithm agnostic to $H$. By relying instead on a diameter estimation procedure, we propose the first algorithm for $(\varepsilon,\delta)$-PAC policy identification that does not need any form of prior knowledge on the MDP. Its sample complexity scales in $SAD/\varepsilon^2$ in the regime of small $\varepsilon$, which is near-optimal. In the online setting, our first contribution is a lower bound which implies that a sample complexity polynomial in $H$ cannot be achieved in this setting. Then, we propose an online algorithm with a sample complexity in $SAD^2/\varepsilon^2$, as well as a novel approach based on a data-dependent stopping rule that we believe is promising to further reduce this bound.