Handicapped by the absence of three of their strongest players, the Washington Plumbers eked out a victory by a one-point margin in their first match of the National Chess League's 1977 season.

The Washington team, the league's defending champion, defeated a team from Phoenix, Ariz., in a match played by long distance telephone from 8:30 p.m. Wednesday until, about 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

Absent from the first match because of conflicting tournament commitments were grandmaster Lubemir Kavalek, who was playing in a European tournament, and Mark Diesen, who has just won the world junior championship. A third member of the team, Larry Gilden, is engaged in several university courses and probably will not be able to play this season.

The winning margin in Wednesday night's match was provided through victories by Charles Powell on board 2, John Meyer on board 3, Steven Odendahl on board 6 and a draw by Sam Greenlaw on board 5.

Next Wednesday night's match will be played against Cleveland, beginning [WORD ILLEGIBLE] spectators will be [WORD ILLEGIBLE]

This season, the Plumbers' matches are being played in the student cafeteria at George Mason University, Fairfax, scene of the U.S. Open tournament last summer. Large demonstration boards are supplied for spectators to follow each of the six games.