Ramsey Numbers

Find the smallest integer \(n\) that there must be either three mutual friends or three mutual strangers among \(n\) people, suppose each pair of people are either friends or strangers?

Ramsey Numbers

The answer to the above problem is \(6\). To prove it, we first rephrase this problem as an edge-coloring problem: Show that if every edge of \(K_6\) is colored red or green, then there must be either a red triangle or a green triangle.

The proof is a simple application of the pigeonhole principle. Pick a vertex \(v\) in \(K_6\), there are at least three red edges or three green edges incident on \(v\). Assuming that \(v\) has at least three red edges, say \(\{v,a\},\{v,b\}\) and \(\{v,c\}\), we examine the edges joining \(a,b,c\). If any of these three edges is red, we obtain a red triangle. If non of the three edges is red, then we have a green triangle joining \(a,b,c\).

We extend this idea to be a more general definition:

  • Let \(i\) and \(j\) be integers such that \(i\ge 2\) and \(j\ge 2\). A positive integer \(m\) has the \((i,j)\)-Ramsey property if \(K_m\) contains either a red \(K_i\) ore a green \(K_j\) as a subgraph, no matter how the edges of \(K_m\) are colored red or green.
  • The Ramsey number \(R(i,j)\) is the smallest positive integer that has the \((i,j)\)-Ramsey property.

We can see some properties of the Ramsey Numbers:

  1. \(R(2,k)=k\).
  2. \(R(i,j)=R(j,i)\).
  3. If \(m\) has the \((i,j)\)-Ramsey property, then so does every integer \(n>m\).
  4. If \(m\) does not have the \((i,j)\)-Ramsey property, then neither does integer \(n<m\).
  5. If \(i_1>i_2\), then \(R(i_1,j)\ge R(i_2,j)\).

We also give an upper bound for \(R(i,j)\). If \(i\ge 3\) and \(j\ge 3\), then \[ \displaylines{R(i,j)\le R(i,j-1)+R(i-1,j) } \] Proof: Let \(m=R(i,j-1)+R(i-1,j)\). Suppose the edges of \(K_m\) have been colored red or green and \(v\) is a vertex of \(K_m\). Partition the vertex set \(V\) into two subsets:

  • \(A=\) all vertices adjacent to \(v\) along a red edge
  • \(B=\) all vertices adjacent to \(v\) along a green edge

Since \[ \displaylines{|A|+|B|=|A\cup B|=m-1=R(i,j-1)+R(i-1,j)-1 } \] either \(|A|\ge R(i-1,j)\) or \(|B|\ge R(i,j-1)\). Consider the case where \(|A|\ge R(i-1,j)\). We call the complete subgraph on the vertices in \(A\) as \(K_{|A|}\). Since \(|A|\ge R(i-1,j)\), \(K_{|A|}\) has either a red \(K_{i-1}\) or a green \(K_j\). If we have a red \(K_{i-1}\), we add the red edges joining \(v\) to the vertices of \(K_{i-1}\) to obtain a red \(K_i\). Thus, \(K_{|A|}\), and hence \(K_m\), has either a red \(K_i\) or a green \(K_j\).

Furthermore, if \(R(i,j-1)\) and \(R(i-1,j)\) are even, then \(R(i,j)\le R(i,j-1)+R(i-1,j)-1\).

Another upper bound for Ramsey number is \(R(i,j)\le C(i+j-2,i-1)\).

The list of Ramsey numbers whose exact values are known is very short

i/j 2 3 4 5 6
2 2
3 3 6
4 4 9 18
5 5 14 25 43~48
6 6 18 35~41 58~87 102~165
7 7 23 49~61 80~143 115~298
8 8 28 59~84 101~216 134~495
9 9 36 73~115 133~316 183~780


The Ramsey numbers discussed in the last section represent only one family of Ramsey numbers. In this section we will briefly study some other families of these numbers.

Suppose \(i_1,i_2,\dots,i_n\) are positive integers, where each \(i_j\ge 2\). A positive integer \(m\) has the \((i_1,\dots,i_n;2)\)-Ramsey property if, given \(n\) colors \(1,2,\dots,n\), \(K_m\) has a subgraph \(K_{i_j}\) of color \(j\), for some \(j\), no matter how the edges of \(K_m\) are colored with the \(n\) colors.

The smallest positive with the \((i_1,\dots,i_n;2)\)-Ramsey property is called the Ramsey number \(R(i_1,\dots,i_n;2)\).

Very little is also known about the number \(R(i_1,\dots,i_n;2)\) if \(n\ge 3\). However, if \(i_j=2\) for all \(j\), then \[ \displaylines{R(2,\dots,2;2)=2 } \]

We can also represent Ramsey numbers without graph but only in terms of a set and properties of a certain collection of its subsets.

Suppose that \(i_1,i_2,\dots,i_n,r\) are positive integers where \(n\ge 2\) and each \(i_j\ge r\). A positive integer \(m\) has the \((i_1,\dots,i_n;r)\)-Ramsey property if the following statement is true:

If \(S\) is a set of size \(m\) and the \(r\)-element subsets of \(S\) are partitioned into \(n\) collections \(C_1,\dots,C_n\), then for some \(j\) there is a subset of \(S\) of size \(i_j\) such that each of its \(r\)-element subsets belong to \(C_j\).

The Ramsey number \(R(i_1,\dots,i_n;r)\) is the smallest positive integer that has the \((i_1,\dots,i_n;r)\)-Ramsey property. If \(r=1\), this number is easy to find: \[ \displaylines{R(i_1,\dots,i_n;1)=i_1+\dots+i_n-(n-1) } \] Proof: Let \(i_1+\dots+i_n-(n-1)=m\). Take a set \(S\) of size \(m\) and divide its \(1\)-element subsets into \(n\) classes \(C_1,\dots,C_n\). There must be a subscript \(j_0\) such that \(|C_{j_0}|\ge i_{j_0}\). If we take any \(i_{j_0}\) elements of \(C_{j_0}\), we have a subset of \(S\) of size \(i_{j_0}\) that has all its \(i\)-element subsets belonging to \(C_{j_0}\). This shows that \(R(i_1,\dots,i_n;1)\le i_1+\dots+i_n-(n-1)\).

Take a set \(S\) of size \(m-1\). Partition its \(1\)-element subsets into \(n\) classes \(C_1,\dots,C_n\) where \(|C_j|=i_j-1\). With this partition there is no subset of \(S\) of size \(i_j\) that has all its \(1\)-element subsets belonging to \(C_j\).

Schur's Theorem

\(S(c)\), called the Schur's number, is the smallest positive integers that for any partition of the set \(\{1,2,\dots,S(c)\}\) into \(c\) subparts, one of the parts contains three integers \(x,y,z\) with \(x+y=z\).

Schur's Theorem states that the numbers \(S(k)\) always exist and are bounded by the Ramsey numbers \[ \displaylines{S(k)\le R(3,\dots,3;2) } \] where there are \(k\) \(3\)s.

Proof: Let \(n=R(3,\dots,3;2)\) and color the integers \(1,2,\dots,n\) with \(k\) colors. This gives a partition of \(1,2,\dots,n\) into \(k\) sets, \(S_1,S_2,\dots,S_k\), where integers in the same set have the same color. Now take the graph \(K_n\), label its vertices \(1,2,\dots,n\) and label its edges \(\{i,j\}\) with color \(m\) if \(|i-j|\in S_m\). This gives a coloring of \(K_n\) with \(k\) colors. There must be a monochromatic triangle in \(K_n\). if its \(3\) vertices are \(i_1,i_2,i_3\), and we let \(x=i_1-i_2,y=i_2-i_3\), and \(z=i_1-i_3\), then we have \(x+y=z\) where all \(3\) values have the same color.

Convex Sets

A convex polygon is a polygon \(P\) such that if \(x\) and \(y\) are points in the interior of \(P\), then the line segment joining \(x\) and \(y\) lies completely inside \(P\).

Suppose \(m\) is a positive integer and there are \(n\) given points, no three of which are collinear. If \(n\ge R(m,5;4)\), then a convex \(m\)-gon can be obtained from \(m\) of the \(n\) points.

Proof: Suppose \(n\ge R(m,5;4)\) and \(S\) is a set of \(n\) points in the plane, with not three points collinear. With Ramsey property, no matter how we divide the \(4\)-element subsets of \(S\) into two collections \(C_1\) and \(C_2\), either

  1. There is a subset of \(S\) of size \(m\) with all its \(4\)-element subsets in \(C_1\), or
  2. There is a subset of \(S\) of size \(5\) with all its \(4\)-element subsets in \(C_2\)

We now take \(C_1\) to be the collection of all subsets of \(S\) of size four where the \(4\)-gon determined by the points is convex and take \(C_2\) to be not convex. Note that (ii) cannot happen. That is, we can always find a convex \(4\)-gon among \(5\) points in the plane. Therefore, we are guaranteed of having a subset \(A\subseteq S\) where \(|A|=m\) and all \(4\)-gons determined by \(A\) are convex.

We will now show that the \(m\) points of \(A\) determine a convex \(m\)-gon. Let \(k\) be the largest positive integer such that \(k\) of the \(m\) points form a convex \(k\)-gon \(G\). If \(k<m\), then at least one of the elements of \(A\), say \(a_1\), lies inside the convex \(k\)-gon \(G\). Therefore there are three vertices of \(G\), say \(a_2,a_3,a_4\), such that \(a_1\) lies inside the triangle determined by these vertices. Hence, the set \(\{a_1,a_2,a_3,a_4\}\) determines a nonconvex \(4\)-gon, contradicting the property of \(A\) that all its \(4\)-gons are convex. Therefore we must have \(k=m\).

Graph Ramsey Numbers

So far, we have examined colorings of \(K_m\) and looked for monochromatic \(K_i\) subgraphs. But suppose we don't look for complete subgraphs \(K_i\), but rather try to find other subgraphs, such as cycle graphs \((C_i)\), wheels \((W_i)\), complete bipartite graphs \((K_{i,j})\) or trees?

Suppose \(G_1,\dots,G_n\) are graphs, each with at least one edge. An integer \(m\) has the \((G_1,\dots,G_n)\)-Ramsey property if every coloring of the edges of \(K_m\) with the \(n\) colors \(1,2,\dots,n\) yields a subgraph \(G_j\) of color \(j\), for some \(j\).

The graph Ramsey number \(R(G_1,\dots,G_n)\) is the smallest positive integer with the \((G_1,\dots,G_n)\)-Ramsey property.

For \(j=1,\dots,n\), suppose that \(G_j\) is a graph with \(i_j\) vertices (where \(i_j\ge 2\)). Then the graph Ramsey number \(R(G_1,\dots,G_n)\) exists, and \[ \displaylines{R(G_1,\dots,G_n)\le R(i_1,\dots,i_n;2) } \]

  1. Ramsey's Theorem
  2. Schur's Theorem
  3. Complete Graph
  4. Wheel Graph
  5. Bipartite Graph