Happy Families is not just a card game. Some people would say that a happy family is the basis of a successful life. Well, I have been playing around with a staking plan and today it suddenly looked back at me from the computer screen and said, "My name is Happy Families".

No, it didn't really (not that I think for a moment you believed me), but the idea came to me because I was looking for a way of creating a shared staking system. My idea was that everybody could help everybody else; in that way they could all share in each other's success, whilst helping each other in times when somebody was down.

I want you to think of a series of selections on any set day as being part of a family. Let's call it the March 6 family. Then we would have the March 13 family, and the March 20 family, the March 27 family and so on into April. Each Saturday would introduce a new family into our network.

The March 6 family would be the original ancestors for this staking plan. Sort of like Genesis in a way. You can start before March 6 if you like of course, but it is the first Saturday in this magazine's calendar month. My idea is that, however you make your individual selections for March 6, each one will represent an individual member of the family but also it will have responsibilities to its March 6 family members.

Each individual member will make individual bets for his own benefit, but these will be matched by equal investments on behalf of

the family. So if, for example, Bet 1 on March 6 manages to win at $10, and the basic staking unit is $5, two single bets of $5 each will have been placed on this horse. $50 will go into Bet 1's pocket, and $50 (less $5 staked) will go into the family bank.

It doesn't stop there. Remember how I said above that all bets would be members of the family, helping each other? If you had six bets on March 6, I don't really think you would be anticipating managing to back six winners at 9/1 each. True, one can be optimistic but one must also be pragmatic. The likelihood of backing six 9/1 winners on the same day, from only six bets, is not exactly strong. So we must assume that Bet l's success is probably going to have to prop up some of the other members of the March 6 family, who haven't done so well today.

Just for argument's sake I am going to postulate that we have a good day and that besides getting Bet 1 up, we also are successful with Bet 4 which pays $4 (3 / 1).

On the basis of level staking, you would get back $14 for every $6 you outlaid that afternoon, and since this represents a huge profit margin of well over 100 per cent, it is not going to happen too often. However, we need something nice and simple so that I can develop this argument.

If this was all there was to it, then Bet 1 would end the day with a very nice, positive bank balance, and because of his generosity to the family (which ~f course is his obligation) all the family would benefit by having a mutual bank of

$45. Bet 4's contribution is also a positive one. Individually, Bet 4 will pocket $15 profit and he will contribute $15 into the family bank.

So at the end of the first day's activity, the family bank will have had outlaid on its behalf $30, and received $70, and it will stand at $40. If you are trying to find that other $10 it was the stake, and it has been returned to the two individuals who made the winning bets.

So far, based on the above, I suppose this idea would not be particularly original, but I have extended the concept. Remember I'm using $5 basic units, but this could get a little bit heavy if you are a small investor. In that case there is nothing to stop you going down to $1, or perhaps sticking to $5 for single bets and limiting yourself to $1 for the bets which I'm going to talk about now.

Let's say that every member of the family makes eight $5 bets. The first bet is the win single we have discussed above, the next two bets commence win doubles and there is another bet which commences a win treble. So $20 is going to be placed by family member Bet I on his own behalf, and another $20 by family member Bet I for the family. Get it? What we are really doing is setting up win doubles for Bet 1 on March 13 and on March 20, and a treble for March 6, March 13 and March 20. The doubles and trebles will run on Bet 1, the first runner, each Saturday.

It means you start A, AB, AC, and ABC at $5 each for each bet you make on every afternoon. And you duplicate the bet, donating the duplicated returns to your family. Ultimately, if you get a very lucky run, Bet I will profit from a single win (A), to doubles wins (AB and AC), and a win treble (ABC).

And the family will benefit, but there's more to its happiness. Things get a bit complex. Our good family member, Bet 1, has contributed 50 per cent of all his winnings to the family bank. It means that you only need to get lucky with one string of bets over a period of three weeks to have a pretty fair chance of making a nice collect overall.

A question many readers may ask at this stage is "why bother?". Well, you'll just have to be patient until next month.

By The Optimist