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In mathematics, a saddle point is a point of a function of two variables which is a stationary point but not a local extremum. At such a point, in general, the surface resembles a saddle that curves up in one direction, and curves down in a different direction (like a mountain pass). In terms of contour lines, a saddle point can be recognised, in general, by a contour that appears to intersect itself. For example, two hills separated by a high pass will show up a saddle point, at the top of the pass, like a figure-eight contour line.

More formally, given a real function F(x,y) of two real variables, the Hessian matrix H of F is a 2×2 matrix. If it is indefinite (neither H nor −H is positive definite) then in general it can be reduced to the Hessian of the function

x2y2,

at the point (0,0). This function has a saddle point there, curving up along the line y = 0 and down along the line x = 0.

In fact if H is a non-singular matrix (general case) and F is smooth enough, this is the correct local model for a stationary point of F that is not a local maximum nor a local minimum. If H has rank < 2 one cannot be certain in the same way about the local behaviour.