Sahara Poker Room Review
Dec 16, 2005  
2005 Jason Kirk  

Away from the more modern hotel-casinos on the southern Las Vegas Strip is the Sahara, a property old enough that Elvis and the Beatles stayed there. Like most older casinos in Las Vegas, value is the main thing the Sahara has to recommend it - you're definitely not staying or playing there for the scenery. The poker room at the Sahara resembles the rest of the casino in that the main reason for playing there is value.

The Sahara poker room is a little out of the way if you're staying anywhere south of mid-Strip. It sits further north than the Stratosphere, the last stop Strip resort on the way downtown to old Vegas. Your best bets to get there are a cab ride at about $7-8, or taking the monorail. Once you arrive, the poker room is located off of a hallway leading from the main pit to the restaurants. There are several banks of slot and video poker machines surrounding the outer part of the roped-off poker room so noise can be a factor when you're in a game, but for the most part it's in a relatively slow part of the casino. Also, there's no smoking in the room but smokers can just go outside the roped off area; those who prefer a smoke-free poker environment might not be comfortable at the Sahara.

The Sahara mostly spreads low-limit hold'em games. There are regularly several tables of $2-4 and $4-8 limit hold'em, and the room will spread no-limit hold'em with $1 and $2 blinds when there are enough players for a game. Occasionally there will be a $1-5 stud game running, but it's rare to see one in action. It's also a fairly quiet room early in the day, though traffic generally picks up throughout the day until a 10 to 30 minute wait becomes common at night. The Sahara is a great place for anyone with a relatively small bankroll to get into games that are a little more aggressive than in some of the southern Strip low-limit rooms.

The cash games at the Sahara are good, but the best reason to play there is that they have great tournaments. There are three tournaments daily, at 11 AM and 7 & 11 PM. The buy-ins are affordable - for $42 you receive $2,000 in tournament chips, and you can purchase a single $20 rebuy at any time in the first hour that will give you another $1,500 in chips. The blind structure is one of the best I've ever seen for smaller tournaments - blinds begin at 25/25 and move up every 20 minutes. The levels move a little quickly, but the blinds escalate gradually enough that there's still a lot of play at the final table. The payout structure is also better than in some other tournaments where 6 players or less are paid regardless of the number of entrants. It's hard to find a better tournament bargain anywhere on the Strip.

So far as the competition goes, the Sahara poker room is a little tougher than most of the low-limit rooms further down the Strip. That's because there are more locals here than in most Strip casinos. Not all of them are poker savants - this is a low-roller room, after all - but enough of them know what they're doing to make the games interesting. One result of this slightly better competition is a slightly more aggressive game, which leads to bigger pots being contested no matter what level you're playing. If you hit a nice run of cards while playing at the Sahara you're likely to do very well for yourself.

The dealers at the Sahara aren't the best in Las Vegas. A few of them are very competent and fun to have at the table, but several of them are inattentive to the game and highly unlikely to talk or make any sort of expression at all. Dealer mistakes at the Sahara aren't uncommon, so it pays to watch the game closely. The servers are also hit-or-miss, either constantly keeping a drink in front of you or disappearing 20 minutes at a time. While the quality of dealers and service are downsides of the Sahara, they doesn't outweigh the value benefits of the aggressive games and good tournaments.

If your goal while in Las Vegas is to play nothing but tournaments and you're on a relatively limited bankroll, you could do much worse than spending your time in the Sahara. With three tourneys daily and great structures in all of them, the only reason to play tournaments elsewhere is because you have the money to play in a higher-buy-in tourney. Service there is questionable, but the games are good enough to keep you coming back.

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