It’s probably a bit of a stretch to imagine West Australian mogul Gina Rinehart playing the card game Happy Families, as in Mr Bun the Baker, but she seems to be playing a grown up version by making that $390 million all cash, unconditional bid for Pilbara minnow Atlas Iron.

She made the bid on Monday, less than a week after the card game began with Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue group acquiring what looks like a blocking stake of 19.9 per cent in Atlas.

With her resources, that’s the sort of money you find down the back of the sofa.

And although Atlas tends to attract descriptive adjectives like decrepit and beleaguered, she is clearly serious.

Oh, and Atlas has 9.2 billion shares on issue, which is why the possibly knockout bid is framed at 4.2 cents a share. Welcome to Western Australia.

What makes her bid interesting is that in one week she followed Andrew Forrest in building stakes of just under 20 per cent each in Atlas, which exports around 4 million tonnes of iron ore a year through Port Hedland.

As old hands will tell you, a mine’s just a hole in the ground until you can move the dirt to somewhere where someone will pay for it, and at the moment Atlas is only just holding its own.

Its low grade Mount Webber mine is close to Nullagine, one of the hottest towns in Australia, and because it has no access to any of the nearby iron ore railways, it has to truck its ore 175 dusty kilometres north westwards up the dirt road to Port Hedland.

It’s currently using the State owned Utah Point multi-user berths in Port Hedland to load the ships that mostly go to China, but last week the State transport minister Rita Saffioti fired a shot across any potential bidder’s bows by noting that Atlas does not have a priority right to develop the potential berths called Stanley Point Berths 3 and 4, which would be beside berths already used by Ms Rinehart’s operating Roy Hill Mine.

That could provide a significant jelly-wrestle in future, given that the State government favours junior miners of the Atlas size.

The fact that Ms Rinehart chose to make the bid after that letter was made public by Atlas suggests she has other plans for her target, such as for instance getting access to some of its many prospects, admittedly lower grade, around the East Pilbara.

There’s a fair bit more to play out over this, since there is still an agreed “scheme of arrangement” proposal put up in April by Chris Ellison’s Mineral Resources Group.

He’s offering one MIN share for every 571 Atlas shares, which at the moment works out at the equivalent of 2.9 cents per Atlas share. In tiddler terms it’s a chasm away from Gina’s 4.2 cents. On that arithmetic MinRes is going to have to offer one share for just under 400 Atlas shares to come level, and better than that to get a real seat at the table.

Until Andrew and then Gina came along last week it was all looking pretty good for Mineral Resources, but Ellison’s group now needs to lift its bid or watch its quarry disappear down a bigger raider’s gullet.

According to an Atlas announcement yesterday, MinRes now has three days in which to do so. And in the interim, Atlas management says, its mostly small shareholders should TAKE NO ACTION, a phrase that seems to have been created fully formed in capital letters.

So where does Mr Forrest stand in all of this? He knows more than most people what it’s like to be exporting iron ore with an fe content below 60 per cent, since it was his smart idea to peg all the second grade prospects back in the days when neither of the big players, BHP and Rio, was interested in the crumbs that have now become multi billion dollar Fortescue assets.

Like Gina, he too has a railway and very major ambitions in the Pilbara, and what is interesting is that this is the first time he and Gina have come out fighting “head to head” in public.

In the small puddle that is Perth it’s likely that they have crossed swords before, but only in unlisted areas and always behind closed doors. They are said not to get on, but have until now kept their spats out of public view.

This time it’s different: it’s all out in the open and someone’s going to lose.

So what’s really going on? Given that Atlas only has one operating iron ore mine, no railways and only modest dibs on the ore loading facilities at Port Hedland, it’s not exactly a jewel in the crown.

The tea leaf readers are saying we might be seeing a move by Gina and/or Andrew Forrest to deal Chris Ellison out of the game, although it would not only be unlikely but also illegal for the two big players to act in concert.

How about the cynical suggestion that the best thing for all the other players is for Atlas to become a majority owned appendage of one of the big players, and fade away quietly?

Taking Atlas’s modest 4 million tonnes a year out of the market won’t exactly send the iron ore price into orbit, but with a major backer Atlas could become something of a nuisance.

We await Andrew Forrest’s next move with particular interest, since he’s been the one making the least noise. His latest pronouncement was that “we are considering our options” which suggests there is a fair bit more to come on this one.

Some people clearly think so.  Atlas shares closed last night at a nosebleed 4.4 cents a share, 0.2 of a cent above the highest current bid.