Gary Kasparov, looking subdued and playing cautiously after his defeat on Tuesday, played to a draw with champion Anatoly Karpov yesterday in Game 23 of the world chess championship. The result puts the score at 12 to 11 in Kasparov's favor.

In the final game on Saturday, challenger Kasparov will need only a draw to win the title; Karpov needs a victory to hold it. It is now impossible for Karpov to win the match, but he remains the champion if the final score is tied at 12-12.

Game 23 was relatively quiet compared with the fireworks and unexpected changes of situation in recent games. Kasparov, playing white and enjoying a slight initiative, steered the game into a variation of the Queen's Gambit in which the two players have already played to several draws. Karpov was faced with a choice: to accept a risk-free draw, which would keep him in the competition, or to go for a victory, which would mean taking chances on a loss. He decided (as he often does when playing black against strong opponents) to take a draw, knowing that he will have white and a small advantage in the final game Saturday.

The champion was applauded on entering Moscow's Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, as he deserved after winning solidly in Game 22, but the applause was louder for Kasparov -- even in defeat, a favorite of Moscow chess fans.

In the final position of Game 23, the possibilities of either side forcing a victory look remote; material is equal, with both sides in essentially defensive postures. Most of the pawns are still on the board, but all of them are or can be easily defended and the mobility of pieces is limited for both sides.

In the final game Saturday, Karpov can be expected to play more aggressively than yesterday, as he did with striking success in Game 22 on Tuesday. Whatever the result, or even the quality of play, the situation will make it the most crucial chess game of the 1980s.

White Kasparov Black Karpov

1. d4d5 2. c4e6 3. Nc3Be7 4. Nf3Nf6 5. Bg5h6 6. Bxf6Bxf6 7. e30-0 8. Rc1c6 9. Bd3Nd7 10. 0-0dxc4 11. Bxc4e5 12. h3exd4 13. exd4Nb6 14. Bb3Re8 15. Re1Bf5 16. Rxe8chQxe8 17. Qd2Qd7 18. Re1Rd8 19. Qf4Nd5 20. Nxd5cxd5 21. Ne5Bxe5 22. Rxe5Be6 23. Qe3Kf8 24. Qd3f6 25. Re1Bf7 26. Qc3Qd6 27. Rc1Be8 28. Bd1a6 29. Bf3g6 30. h4h5 31. g3Bf7 32. a4Rd7 33. a5Kg7 34. Qb3Qe6 35. Qb4Qe8 36. Kg2Qd8 37. Rc5Qe7 38. Qc3g5 39. Qe3g4 40. Bd1Qe4ch 41. Kg1 Draw