Geneva — The Russians play chess and are ''very deliberate,'' observed chief US negotiator Edward Rowny after the opening of the US-Soviet START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) here at the end of June. And then he added, somewhat ruefully, ''We in the West like to play (instant-reaction) Pac-Man.''
This crisp contrast goes far toward explaining the difference in Soviet and American negotiating styles. And it suggests just what Mr. Rowny will be facing in haggling with veteran Soviet arms control negotiator Viktor Karpov.
Karpov was on the Soviet team that first began wrestling with nuclear arms control back in 1969. He moved up to head the Soviet delegation for the second superpower arms control treaty signed in 1979 (SALT II). And back in the pre-detente days he served in the Soviet embassy in Washington - where his children, it is reliably reported, became devotees of MacDonald's hamburgers.
Karpov is said by American diplomats to be not much given to small talk. His Westernized quotes tend to borrow from ''Dagwood'' and ''Doonesbury'' comics rather than (as in the case of his suave predecessor in the SALT talks, Vladimir Semenov) Shakespeare and the Bible. And, of course, Karpov plays chess.
His skill and toughness as a negotiator are given high marks by his American counterparts. And his own personal memory of the 13-year history of superpower arms control negotiations probably exceeds the entire corporate memory of the rather less experienced American delegation. Of the principals on the US side only Rowny and Arms Control and Disarmament Agency representative Jack Mendelsohn have had previous experience, in the SALT II but not the SALT I talks.
Judging from past Soviet practice, Karpov's negotiating style will generally avoid polemics. It will involve, however, the very wearing techniques of avoidance of Soviet initiative; preference for broad agreements ''in principle'' rather than detailed contractual specifications; obsessive secrecy; little delegated leeway for the Soviet negotiator; and predominance of the Soviet military within the Soviet delegation.
Moreover, Soviet diplomacy in the START talks, as in other negotiations with the West, will aim at rather different goals than American diplomacy. As senior Library of Congress researcher Joseph Whelan summarized the contrast in his book ''Soviet diplomacy and negotiating behavior,'' Americans perceive diplomacy ''as the management of international relations by . . . the bargaining process. Its purpose is to adjust conflicting interests in order to establish a harmony of interests among adversaries, and ultimately to achieve international stability.''
The Russians, on the contrary, view diplomacy and negotiations ''as political instruments to be used . . . for achieving the triumphant purposes of Marxism-Leninism.''
In the past Rowny has been very conscious of the difference between Soviet and US negotiating styles - and has criticized the US approach to arms control talks as lending itself too easily to Soviet exploitation.
The Rowny style of diplomacy has hardly had a chance to assert itself yet. But it is a fair bet that he will try to heed some advice of earlier US negotiators with the Soviet Union:
Philip Mosely (after World War II negotiations): establish ''a single clear position, one which can be upheld logically and politically during long discussion.'' Uphold a position ''in detail, and for a long time'' avoid constant modifications.
George Kennan (1946): ''Don't act chummy with'' Soviet negotiators. ''Don't assume a community of aims with them which does not really exist.'' ''Don't make fatuous gestures of good will.'' ''Do not be afraid of unpleasantness and public airing of differences.'' ''The Russian governing class respects only the strong. To them, shyness is a form of weakness.''
Gerard Smith (after negotiating SALT I): ''Don't expect quick results.'' ''Don't waste time on (proposing) obviously inequitable propositions.'' ''Realize that the Soviets enjoy a tactical negotiating advantage because of the closed nature of their society.'' Don't ''poor-mouth'' the US military posture. Don't ''lust for a summit.''
Ambassador Rowny, it is reliably reported, also plays chess.