Bridge-Depth Characterizes which Structural Parameterizations of Vertex Cover Admit a Polynomial Kernel

Marin Bougeret, Bart M. P. Jansen, Ignasi Sau

We study the kernelization complexity of structural parameterizations of the Vertex Cover problem. Here, the goal is to find a polynomial-time preprocessing algorithm that can reduce any instance $(G,k)$ of the Vertex Cover problem to an equivalent one, whose size is polynomial in the size of a pre-determined complexity parameter of $G$. A long line of previous research deals with parameterizations based on the number of vertex deletions needed to reduce $G$ to a member of a simple graph class $\mathcal{F}$, such as forests, graphs of bounded tree-depth, and graphs of maximum degree two. We set out to find the most general graph classes $\mathcal{F}$ for which Vertex Cover parameterized by the vertex-deletion distance of the input graph to $\mathcal{F}$, admits a polynomial kernelization. We give a complete characterization of the minor-closed graph families $\mathcal{F}$ for which such a kernelization exists. We introduce a new graph parameter called bridge-depth, and prove that a polynomial kernelization exists if and only if $\mathcal{F}$ has bounded bridge-depth. The proof is based on an interesting connection between bridge-depth and the size of minimal blocking sets in graphs, which are vertex sets whose removal decreases the independence number.

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