Cyclic Products and Optimal Traps in Cyclic Birth and Death Chains

  • Mark Holmes
  • Alexander E. Holroyd
  • Alejandro Ramírez


A birth-death chain is a discrete-time Markov chain on the integers whose transition probabilities $p_{i,j}$ are non-zero if and only if $|i-j|=1$. We consider birth-death chains whose birth probabilities $p_{i,i+1}$ form a periodic sequence, so that $p_{i,i+1}=p_{i \mod m}$ for some $m$ and $p_0,\ldots,p_{m-1}$. The trajectory $(X_n)_{n=0,1,\ldots}$ of such a chain satisfies a strong law of large numbers and a central limit theorem. We study the effect of reordering the probabilities $p_0,\ldots,p_{m-1}$ on the velocity $v=\lim_{n\to\infty} X_n/n$. The sign of $v$ is not affected by reordering, but its magnitude in general is. We show that for Lebesgue almost every choice of $(p_0,\ldots,p_{m-1})$, exactly $(m-1)!/2$ distinct speeds can be obtained by reordering. We make an explicit conjecture of the ordering that minimises the speed, and prove it for all $m\leq 7$. This conjecture is implied by a purely combinatorial conjecture that we think is of independent interest.

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