Borel Determinacy

The proof of Borel determinacy doesn’t seem to have the best reputation, as it’s both rather long, quite technical and it’s really easy to lose track of what’s going on. I’ve noticed that the same proof can be presented in a more structural setting, making the core ideas of the proof be slightly clearer. I’ll try here to present what’s going on in the proof, using the structural framework of games I set up in my previous post. The full proof can be found in my determinacy project.

In my previous post I only considered games in which integers were played, but it’s a curious fact that the proof of Borel determinacy needs to consider all possible games to work. Let’s therefore write G_X(T,A) for the game in which the two players play elements x\in X for any set X, T\subseteq X^{<\omega} is the pruned tree of legal moves and A\subseteq X^\omega is the payoff set. Our previous games G(T,A) are therefore simply G_\omega(T,A). All right, so far so good. Let’s recall what Borel determinacy actually says.

Theorem (Martin). Every Borel game G_X(T,A) is determined.

As most proofs of determinacy, the strategy is to come up with auxiliary simple games which are determined, and somehow transfer this fact to the game in question – this is where the coverings come into play. Martin defines that a covering f:G_Y(U)\to G_X(T) unravels a set A\subset[T] if \tilde\pi_f^{-1}[A] is clopen in [U]. A game G_X(T,A) is then said to be unraveled if there exists a covering f:G_Y(U)\to G_X(T) unraveling A. By playing around with the definition of covering and being unraveled, we get the following fact, which is the reason why we care about unraveled games.

Proposition. Every unraveled game is determined.

The problem is thus reduced to showing that every Borel game is unraveled. This is done inductively, starting with closed (\bf\Pi^0_1) games and then inductively showing that every \bf\Pi^0_\xi game is unraveled, for every \xi<\omega_1. The ‘closed case’ is a direct argument, producing an explicit covering of an arbitrary closed game. Here’s a sketch of how it’s constructed.

Given any game G_X(T) we will define an auxiliary game G_Y(U) with a covering f:G_Y(U)\to G_X(T) unraveling the closed set A\subseteq[T]. Since the game is already closed we need to enforce an “open” condition, which is to say that we want to modify G_X(T) so that if player I wins, he will already have won at a finite stage. The way this is done is by making the two players at round k<\omega play a set of strategies, which they’re then required to follow for the rest of the game.

This means that the game is really over at round k, in that if player I (resp player II) wins, then this was already known in the k‘th round. We can then produce the first part of the covering \pi_f:U\to T as simply forgetting this extra strategy-information. Constructing the second part is done by considering a series of cases, which I’ll omit here. This finishes the sketch of the following.

Proposition. Every closed game is unraveled.

That finishes the “induction start”. For the limit levels of the induction we need to improve the above-mentioned result. Note that the auxiliary game didn’t depend on which k<\omega we chose, so we really showed an ostensibly stronger property. We say that a covering f:G_Y(U)\to G_X(T) is a k-covering if T and U agree up to level 2k, and that \pi_f is the identity up to this level.

What the above proof then shows is that given any closed game G_X(T,A) and k<\omega we can find a k-covering that unravels A. The reason why we care about this strengthening  is that the k-coverings allow us to ensure the existence of certain inverse limits of games, which we will need in our induction.

Proposition (Existence of inverse limits). Let k<\omega and f_{i+1}:G_{X_{i+1}}(T_{i+1})\to G_{X_i}(T_i) be a (k+i)-covering for every i<\omega. Then there’s a game G_X(T) and (k+i)-coverings F_i:G_X(T)\to G_{X_i}(T_i) for every i<\omega such that f_{i+1}\circ F_{i+1}=F_i, and G_X(T) is the universal such game.

The “universal” statement at the end means that if \mathcal G is another game with (k+i)-coverings H_i:\mathcal G\to G_{X_i}(T_i) such that f_{i+1}\circ H_{i+1}=H_i then there’s a unique covering H:\mathcal G\to G_X(T) satisfying F_i\circ H=H_i for every i<\omega. In other words, G_X(T) is the “supremum” of the G_{X_i}(T_i)‘s.

For the inductive argument fix some \xi<\omega_1 and let’s assume that we’ve shown that \bf\Pi^0_\eta games, and thus also \bf\Sigma^0_\eta games, are k-unraveled for all k<\omega and \eta<\xi. Let G_X(T,A) be a \bf\Sigma^0_\xi game, meaning that A is a countable union of \Pi^0_\eta sets A_n for \eta<\xi.

By assumption we get a k-covering f_0:G_{X_1}(T_1)\to G_{X_0}(T) unravelling A_0 where X_0:=X, A_0:=A and $latex T_0:=T, and recursively

f_i:G_{X_{i+1}}(T_{i+1})\to G_{X_i}(T_i)

is a (k+i)-covering unravelling \tilde\pi_{f_{i-1}}^{-1}\circ\cdots\circ\tilde\pi_{f_1}^{-1}[A_i], which exists as \bf\Pi^0_\eta is closed under continuous preimages for \eta<\xi.

We can then take the inverse limit G_Y(U):=\varprojlim_n G_{X_n}(T_n) with k-coverings F_i:G_Y(U)\to G_{X_i}(T_i). Now F_0:G_Y(U)\to G_X(T) is a k-covering unravelling every A_i, since


and \tilde\pi_{F_i} is continuous. Then \tilde\pi_{F_0}^{-1}[A]=\bigcup_n\tilde\pi_{F_0}^{-1}[A_n] is open, so we get a k-covering H:G_Z(V)\to G_Y(U) k-unravelling \tilde\pi_{F_0}^{-1}[A]. But now

F_0\circ H:G_Z(V)\to G_X(T)

is a k-covering unravelling A and we’re done. QED

So given any \bf\Pi^0_\eta game G_X(T,A) we find a linear system of coverings of length \eta\omega that collectively unravel A. The existence of this linear system requires that we use the axiom of replacement \eta many times, and this was shown by Friedman (1971) to be necessary as well.

Friedman, Harvey (1971). “Higher set theory and mathematical practice”. Annals of Mathematical Logic. 2 (3): 325–357.