QUEBEC CITY, Quebec (AP) _ The first game in the world chess championship candidates' quarterfinal between Kevin Spraggett of Canada and Artur Yusipov of the Soviet Union ended in a 37-move draw on Saturday.

Spraggett, 34, from Montreal, is considered the underdog by most experts in this six-game contest with Yusipov, a 29-year-old, who plays board-three for the Soviet Union behind world champion Garri Kasparov and the former world titleholder Anatoly Karpov.

''Spraggett's not the favorite, but he's not to be underrated,'' said Danny Kopec, an American international master. ''He proves that again and again.''

By holding the draw, with the black pieces, Spraggett now gains a small edge because he has three remaining games to play with the advantage of the white pieces while Yusipov has only two.

The second game of the contest scheduled to finish Jan. 29 will be played Sunday, with Spraggett playing white. A win scores a point and a draw a half point.

Yusipov gained a nagging edge from a queen's gambit, but the Canadian managed to free his cramped position with a pawn break on the 23rd move. With both players short of time, Yusipov forced a draw by repeating the position.

The winner of the contest will receive five-eighths of the $32,000 prize fund with the loser receiving three-eighths.

British grand master Jonathan Speelman is so far the only player qualified for the semifinal, which is scheduled to be played in London in October.

The contest between former world champion Karpov and Johann Hjartarson of Iceland will begin Jan. 28 in Seattle. The remaining duel pits Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman with Lajos Portisch of Hungary, which starts in the Belgian city of Antwerp on Jan. 31.

The winner of the candidates' cycle will challenge Kasparov for his title in autumn 1990.

Spraggett shot to prominence in his previous qualifier with Soviet grandmaster Andre Sokolov. Although Sokolov was expected to crush the Canadian, Spraggett held on to tie 3-3 and defeated his opponent in a hair- raising playoff at high speed.