NEW YORK, OCT. 8 -- It was like old times in the Hudson Theatre just outside of Times Square today, when world chess champion Gary Kasparov and former champion, now challenger Anatoly Karpov stepped out on the stage, shook hands looking as though they didn't want to, and endured a familiar media barrage before settling down to play chess. They played to a draw, and that was familiar too.

The first few minutes of a world championship match are recognized as a media event and do not count on the two-faced time clocks that tick off the precious minutes allotted to each player: 2 1/2 hours each for their first 40 moves. So the players sat at their board, fiddling nervously with pawns and making tiny adjustments of the pieces within their squares, trying to look as if they were playing amid a blinding assault of blinking flashbulbs and glaring television lights.

This was their fifth world championship match, and almost everything about it was familiar. They had done it all before in Moscow and London, in Leningrad and Seville. But this was the first time they had done it in New York; in fact, the first time since 1907 anyone had played a world championship game in the United States.

A little more than three years had passed since their last championship match, a hard-fought struggle from which Kasparov emerged as the champion only because draws left the title where it had been. Each player won four games and 16 ended in draws. The two players have since remained close in strength and obviously far ahead of everyone else in sight. And after so many games, they seemed unlikely to have many surprises in store for one another.

Illegal flashbulbs continued to pop in the audience for several minutes after chief arbiter Geurt Gijssen of the Netherlands started Karpov's clock, Karpov pushed his queen's pawn two squares, the media were shooed out and the real play began. Kasparov studied the board, scowling a little. Karpov tends to favor king-pawn openings, but the enterprising system he used for this game, although it indicated an aggressive frame of mind, caused Kasparov little surprise or inconvenience.

Karpov introduced the Saemisch variation against Kasparov's King's Indian defense, then Kasparov shifted into the Byrne variation, named for former U.S. champion Robert Byrne, who as chess editor of the New York Times is the best-known chess guru in the host city. Chess experts in the press room, watching the game on closed-circuit monitors, speculated on whether this opening had been chosen as a graceful tribute to New York. "When they go to France {for the second half of the match, to be played in Lyon}, maybe they will want to play the French defense," said an observer. "Didn't they play the English opening in London?"

Kasparov's choice of the King's Indian was not a surprise; he had used it against Karpov in the World Cup tournament. But Karpov's switch from the classic variation to the sharp-edged Saemisch was something new and a sign of belligerent intentions. Kasparov was cautious about sharp edges.

The playing developed quite normally, but on the 11th move, Karpov, perhaps by design, did not fight for space by moving his queen's pawn to d5. After some pawn exchanges in the center, Kasparov was able to equalize with 16. d5. At that point, the position might be considered slightly in his favor, but he tried to pressure Karpov too much and almost landed in trouble. The center of the action moved to the queenside, where Karpov was able to win a pawn temporarily. Kasparov had to use some magical bishop moves to gain a pawn back and entered a totally drawn position.

In this seemingly peaceful game, there was a lot of action, but it was hidden in the subtext beneath the actual moves.

The first game in the 650-seat theater was sold out at ticket prices ranging from $25 to $100, but once it was well begun, the seats were seldom full. The action of a chess game can be a constant ferment in the mind of an observer, but even for the most dedicated fan, there is a certain muchness in sitting immobile for five hours, watching two men stare at pieces of wood carefully arranged on a board. In the theater lobby, between moves, spectators browsed a display of unusual chess sets, including one commissioned by Napoleon that includes a bust of him among the pieces, and a "Doves vs. Hawks" set from the 1960s with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Joan Baez as the king and queen of one side, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson as the monarchs on the other.

Most of the time, one of the two chairs on the stage is vacant too; one player often goes strolling (but he is not allowed to talk to anyone; a kibitzer might help one of the world's strongest players against the other) while his opponent ponders. Sometimes the pondering goes on for a long time. Karpov thought for half an hour on his 14th move before pushing his king's rook one square to the left.

The logo of the match is a silhouette of Karpov and Kasparov eyeball to eyeball, with the white space between their profiles taking the form of a Staunton-design king. The players never got that close on stage, but the poster captured the spirit of the event.

The second game in the match will begin Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

Chess grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek contributed to this report.