On the Cut-Query Complexity of Approximating Max-Cut

Authors Orestis Plevrakis, Seyoon Ragavan , S. Matthew Weinberg

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Orestis Plevrakis
  • Department of Computer Science, Princeton University, NJ, USA
Seyoon Ragavan
  • Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
S. Matthew Weinberg
  • Department of Computer Science, Princeton University, NJ, USA


SR would like to thank Georgy Noarov and Dmitry Paramonov for collaborating on a course project that led to this work. We would also like to thank Sepehr Assadi for helpful discussions and anonymous reviewers for feedback and suggested changes.

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Orestis Plevrakis, Seyoon Ragavan, and S. Matthew Weinberg. On the Cut-Query Complexity of Approximating Max-Cut. In 51st International Colloquium on Automata, Languages, and Programming (ICALP 2024). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 297, pp. 115:1-115:20, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2024)


We consider the problem of query-efficient global max-cut on a weighted undirected graph in the value oracle model examined by [Rubinstein et al., 2018]. Graph algorithms in this cut query model and other query models have recently been studied for various other problems such as min-cut, connectivity, bipartiteness, and triangle detection. Max-cut in the cut query model can also be viewed as a natural special case of submodular function maximization: on query S ⊆ V, the oracle returns the total weight of the cut between S and V\S. Our first main technical result is a lower bound stating that a deterministic algorithm achieving a c-approximation for any c > 1/2 requires Ω(n) queries. This uses an extension of the cut dimension to rule out approximation (prior work of [Graur et al., 2020] introducing the cut dimension only rules out exact solutions). Secondly, we provide a randomized algorithm with Õ(n) queries that finds a c-approximation for any c < 1. We achieve this using a query-efficient sparsifier for undirected weighted graphs (prior work of [Rubinstein et al., 2018] holds only for unweighted graphs). To complement these results, for most constants c ∈ (0,1], we nail down the query complexity of achieving a c-approximation, for both deterministic and randomized algorithms (up to logarithmic factors). Analogously to general submodular function maximization in the same model, we observe a phase transition at c = 1/2: we design a deterministic algorithm for global c-approximate max-cut in O(log n) queries for any c < 1/2, and show that any randomized algorithm requires Ω(n/log n) queries to find a c-approximate max-cut for any c > 1/2. Additionally, we show that any deterministic algorithm requires Ω(n²) queries to find an exact max-cut (enough to learn the entire graph).

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Mathematics of computing → Approximation algorithms
  • query complexity
  • maximum cut
  • approximation algorithms
  • graph sparsification


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